After giving us well-regarded erotic thrillers in the 1980s (9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction), 90s (Indecent Proposal), and 00s (Unfaithful), Adrian Lyne is back in genre form after 22 years with Deep Water. Unfortunately it’s often as lifeless as the marriage it portrays and even when its central relationship gathers steam in the third act, I still found myself mostly unsatisfied.
Based on a 1957 by Patricia Highsmith (who wrote the novels that became Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley), Water is certainly a cinematic step-down from those pictures. Vic Van Allen (Ben Affleck) doesn’t have much to do in his sleepy small Louisiana town. He’s an early retiree after inventing a chip that powers drones. The political ramifications of his former occupation are glossed over though it seems like the screenwriters wanted to explore it further. He spends his days tending to his pet snails and his precocious daughter (adorably played by Grace Jenkins who gives the most memorable performance).
Her mom is Melinda (Ana de Armas), who is not content being a soccer mom. Vic and Melinda spend their evenings at endless gatherings of their well to do neighbors that include Lil Rel Howery and his muted comic relief and Don (Tracy Letts), a screenwriter looking for inspiration. He may have found it with the Van Allens. Melinda is not shy about flaunting her flirtations and likely sexual dalliances with a string of hunks like the surfer looking Joel (Brendan C. Miller) and ivory tickling Charlie (Jacob Elordi). A previous hookup turned up dead and the townspeople whisper about Vic’s possible involvement. The chatter intensifies when Melinda’s latest conquests follow similar fates.
There’s perhaps some deeper meaning to glean about the nature of suburban marriages and jealousy and my hunch is that it’s found in Highsmith’s source material. It generally isn’t on the screen (or stream in this case since it’s a Hulu release). Instead we get a film where’s little joy in the repetition. Deep Water never quite finds the balance of being a kooky guilty pleasure and an engrossing sexual nail-biter. Occasionally it comes close with the former as Vic bizarrely explains the nutritional dangers of those snails.
Part of the problem is that the leads aren’t given compelling characters to play. Affleck does portray his general malaise with the desired effect while de Armas is saddled with a one-note femme fatale. If she’s supposed to be sympathetic, the writers failed to accomplish that mission. There is a cute moment when their adorable offspring belts out Leo Sayer’s mid 70s tune “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”. As for Deep Water, it made me feel wistful of an era when these types of exercises were better. Lyne made some of them and this recent proposal falls short of being a decent one.
** (out of four)