BLACK WATER: Jean-Claude Van Damme & Dolph Lundgren Are Buds On A Sub

This time… they’re not trying to kill each other

The great appeal of Black Water is right there on the cover of the Blu-ray: Teaming up stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren for an action-packed adventure. This duo have starred in quite a few films together, with the best of these being three Universal Soldier titles in which they seem trapped in an eternal fight to the death. Those films are mostly late career highlights for these aging action heroes, but I will say that it’s nice to see them bro-ing out together in Black Water.

Here, Van Damme is the lead as special agent Wheeler. He wakes up as the film opens, quite unsure of where he is or how he got there. In a cell next door is Lundgren’s Marco, informing Wheeler of an unfortunate truth: they’re prisoners on a “black site” submarine. Escape is highly unlikely. Wheeler has hidden a flash drive that has some macguffin information on it, and corrupt U.S. operatives will stop at nothing to get it back. It’s a classic espionage set up, with the twists being the submarine angle, and Lundgren’s character being somewhat of a ticking bomb. A series of double crosses and uneasy alliances ensue, with an aspiring female soldier named Cassie (Jasmine Waltz) tentatively assisting Wheeler as he tries to escape with his life and the location of his macguffin intact.

While the characterization of Cassie is pretty solid, and JCVD and Lundgren appear to be having a lot of fun kicking ass and taking names together, Black Water struggles under the weight of its low budget. I love a good direct-to-video action film and seek them out with regularity, but their limitations are sometimes painfully obvious. For instance, as forgiving as I am of this genre and budget level, there’s a central flaw in the execution of Black Water that I really had trouble getting past: the submarine. The sets, the cinematography, the staging… none of it feels like we’re on a submarine versus a drab set on a soundstage. There are some sparing CGI shots outside to remind us occasionally that we’re on a sub… but they don’t look good at all. It’s tough because most of us have seen lots of great submarine movies, and director and cinematographer Pasha Patriki’s production design team just didn’t seem to have the ability to convince the audience that all this is taking place deep under water. And because the story necessitates virtually all of the action take place on drab sets within a submarine, it begins to lack visual flare and becomes a bit plodding. The tension and anxiety that’s used to great effect in some submarine movies never quite materializes here.

Some highlights include frequent JCVD collaborator and established character actor Patrick Kilpatrick getting to bark orders for a while, Van Damme’s own son Kris going toe-to-toe with him (guess who wins), and Dolph Lundgren’s inexplicably lively performance as the enigmatic Marco. There’s probably just enough here to please fans of Van Damme and Lundgren, but it’s not a big stand out entry in either of their later careers. Anyone well versed in DTV action may enjoy Black Water. Anyone dipping their toe into this vast sea should probably go elsewhere and check out those Universal Soldier films to get an adrenaline shot of Van Damme and Lundgren doing their thing together.

And I’m Out.

Black Water hits Blu-ray and Digital 8/21/18 from Lionsgate

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