Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Deep (1977)


          Few ’70s blockbusters had the far-reaching impact of Jaws (1975), which spawned not only countless substandard imitators but also a boom period for nearly everyone involved in the original picture. Both phenomena manifested in The Deep, a glossy thriller about oceanic peril based on a novel by the author of Jaws, Peter Benchley. With the additional exception of actor Robert Shaw’s participation, however, the similarities pretty much end there. Whereas Jaws is a robust adventure film with underwater horror, The Deep is a comparatively limp crime picture with underwater boredom. The movie has many noteworthy elements, all of which cheerfully pander to the public’s appetite for lurid sensation, but it’s also a 123-minute slog filled with meandering scenes that go on seemingly forever.
          The story begins when two young Americans who are vacationing in Bermuda discover a shipwreck during a scuba dive in the waters off the island. An artifact they recover catches the attention of a crusty deep-sea salvage expert (Robert Shaw) and a vicious drug dealer (Louis Gossett Jr.), because it turns out the shipwreck is filled with vials containing enough morphine to produce a huge amount of heroin. Accordingly, most of the picture comprises repeated dives to gather booty from the wreck, plus on-shore confrontations like the bit in which the Americans drive scooters while being chased by a truckload of bad guys. The thrills in The Deep are shameless, right down to the tepid running gag about a gigantic killer eel who lurks somewhere inside the shipwreck, and in fact the movie’s best-known element is its tackiest: Voluptuous costar Jacqueline Bisset’s long dive at the beginning of the movie certified her sex-symbol status because she spends the whole sequence in a nearly transparent white T-shirt.
         For good or ill, that sequence is indicative of The Deep’s ample lowbrow appeal. In the same vein, leading man Nick Nolte was at the apex of his handsomeness and youthful intensity, so he’s enjoyable even when he’s chewing the scenery. Shaw, basically delivering a toned-down version of his Jaws performance, is thoroughly entertaining even though he’s saddled with trite material. Gossett is effective as a crook hiding a killer’s heart behind a winning smile, and Eli Wallach adds campy flavor as the old sea dog who helps the heroes on their dives. The Deep falls apart toward the end, resorting to all sorts of tacky fake-outs to ensure a highly improbable happy ending, and fans expecting sea-critter action on the order of Jaws will be disappointed. Still, with its whatever-works mishmash of brazen titillation and luxurious underwater photography, The Deep is enjoyably shallow.

The Deep: FUNKY

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