Dark Waters (2004)

Plot: Deep Blue Sea: The Cheap Knock-Off.

We open looking upon the ocean. Soon the camera drops beneath the surface of the CGI waters. CGI sunbeams slant down, as CGI fish school and, yes, the occasional CGI shark comes swimming past. This opening sequence isn’t half bad, actually. The sharks never look convincing, but they move better than most of UFO’s earlier CGI menaces.

Our cast includes Lorenzo Lamas—sadly, this represents evidence that UFO’s budgets are getting bigger—and Simmone Jade Mackinnon. (Is she Lamas’ current squeeze? He has a history of working with his wives and/or girlfriends whenever possible.) Ms. Mackinnon has a fair amount of experience working opposite CGI animal menaces, having starred in both Python II and the giant killer eel flick Deep Shock. She’s probably best remembered from her brief turn as a regular on Baywatch Hawaii.

We move on to a CGI oil platform (uh oh), and then duck below the water again. At the bottom of the structure’s support system is a maintenance station. Two guys in elaborate deep-water suits (i.e., prop spacesuits borrowed from some previously produced Alien knock-off) are working outside the facility. The actors playing them are clearly on a darkened set, with smoke and other effects used to suggest, if none too successfully, that they are working underwater. In other words, especially given where this set-up will undoubtedly be going, the entire sequence is an almost exact duplicate of a scene in the marauding Megalodon flick Shark Hunter.

Sure enough, as in that film, this one also has a guy working inside the station, who’s meant to be monitoring his comrades. The joke here—ha, ha—is that he’s trying to watch a porno, but to his frustration is interrupted several times before the inevitable shark attack that kills all three of them. (Oops, sorry.) For some reason, though, the inside worker here sports a rather inadequate ‘Cockney’ accent.

Anyway, the outside guys are examining a large valve wheel, which has been somehow bent out of shape. (Bum bum bum.) Soon the guy inside sees some five large objects on a radar screen. This turns out to be…SPOILER ALERT!!!…a group of quite large sharks. For what it’s worth—and regular readers of the site will know that I’m a practical effects man at heart—the actual attack stuff is surprisingly good for a UFO direct to video feature. Unfortunately, the fact that they went with CGI probably means that they’ll have to limit how much shark action we get. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect similar scenes will be few and far between.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t already a healthy amount of silliness on display here. When the sharks attack the maintenance station itself, they do so by repeatedly smashing their bodies—including several head first hits—into the structure’s steel bulkheads. From this I gather that the sharks here are the same genus as those seen in the much more expensive—although probably not much smarter—Deep Blue Sea.

From this we jump to a book signing / speech by one Dane Quatrell III (Lamas), who appears to be the result of Fabio and Jacques Cousteau falling into the Brundlefly machine together. His Lorenzo Lama-esque sex-god status is confirmed by the fact that several mini-skirted floozy types have seated themselves in the front row. There are even a couple of slutty looking siblings who are undoubtedly meant to remind us of the Hilton Sisters.

Quatrell’s speech concerns the hunt to find Atlantis (!!). Lamas’ performance here is pretty comical, recalling the early stand-up work of Steve Martin. Whether this was on purpose or not, I couldn’t tell. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, however, and assume that once he saw the dialogue he was to deliver he decided to camp things up. To wit:

“Ladies and Gentlemen. Atlantis. The last great adventure. A mystery, wrapped in an enigma. Buried deep in the sea, a civilization that exists somewhere between fantasy and reality. And now each and every one of you can become part of the last great discovery of the New Millennium.”

Quatrell ends his speech by giving the mock Hilton Sisters the eye. Sadly, he never does pull out his laser pointer to discuss their minute physical flaws. Instead, we later see him schmoozing, posing for pictures and signing autographs for his gushing, mostly female fans. From the alacrity with which he attacks a cocktail tray, we can only conclude that this is the Part of the Gig He Hates.

However, he isn’t afraid to mix business with pleasure. His manager, Robin Turner (Mackinnon), informs him that the “Austin” Sisters—gee, that’s clever—are the daughters of a billionaire, and recipients themselves of large trust funds. After he chats them up for a moment, Robin brings over a shill who presents him with a phony check for a half million dollars. The shill really overplays things, and I’m assuming this bit is meant to be funny, although I can’t be absolutely sure.

After the show, the two tabulate their take, which proves pretty paltry. Dane leaves to, uh, work the twins. Robin suggests he not sleep with them until he gets their check. “Be an aloof, mysterious explorer,” she continues. “A drunken womanizing moron with an honorary diploma from [something] State doesn’t usually get the cash.” How cynical. On the other hand, I think that’s how Lamas got that gig on America’s Hottest.

We cut to Dane, who appears to have been, er, thanking his contributors is the most elementary fashion imaginable. We get one nipple here, for those keeping track, although I’m not counting Lamas’. The camera cuts to one of the girls putting a Mickey in his drink, which is probably what I’d do, too, once he starts recycling anecdotes from old Sea Hunt episodes.

Dane awakens on a powerboat, which is just arriving at a fairly elaborate, albeit somewhat dilapidated, waterside complex. Dane grimaces as he sees signs identifying the facility as the Quatrell Marine Institute, and then sees a bikini-clad Robin sunning herself on a nearby beach chair. Dane proves a little slow on the uptake of what’s been happening. One of the film’s (admittedly minor) strong points is that its hero genuinely seems a bit dim, not to mention vain.

Moreover, both Dane and Robin have been playing loose with investor’s money. This we learn with the entrance of Alistair Summerville, the man’s who arranged for their abduction. Robin threatens him with the normal legal ramifications, both criminal and civil (more the latter, since they involve money), whereupon Summerville responds by listing the pair’s own various legal problems. Again, this is hardly world-class screenwriting, but by assigning our protagonists a shady past, their agreeing to help Summerville at least don’t overly strain credulity.

This is especially necessary since Dane blames Summerville for his father’s mysterious disappearance, and presumed death, back when he was a child. Indeed, Dane’s troubled past, we’re to assume, is the result of this trauma. However, Summerville offers to clean up all their various legal problems, clear the title to Institute, which was foreclosed by the IRS, and pay the two a substantial amount, to boot.

What they have that Summerville wants is the use of their research submarine, the U.S.S. Resolve. This is in arrears, too, and even so its existence—and continued ownership by Dane—seems an obvious plot contrivance, but I let that one go. Needless to say, Summerville wants to use the craft to investigate the events at the drilling station. The Navy is scheduled to investigate the matter, but supposedly won’t get around to it for six months. Summerville wants answers now. (Of course, we suspect he has some hidden, darker motives as well, since they always do in these sorts of things.)

I’m going to leave off the scene-by-scene description of the movie, as there are a few, extremely modest plot twists to come. These might not surprise the veteran viewer, but then again they might, so why blow them? I know the vast majority of those who read this review, which is not exactly a gigantic number to begin with, will not end up seeing this movie. Still, I’m sure there are other sorry souls like myself who feel compelled to see every killer shark movie. Far be it for me to take away whatever small pleasures the film might offer them.

And so: Summerville provides a crew for the Resolve, all ex-Navy sub men, and needless to say comes along on the mission himself. There’s the obligatory stuff where the Resolve has to dive just under its dive limit to reach the maintenance station, and pipes sprout leaks and valves must be hurriedly turned and so on. Once down there, the sharks attack their sub, and they are trapped. They end up on a Navy Submarine that proves to be, yawn, the mobile base for, that’s right, Eee-vil military experiments to genetically engineer sharks as bioweapons. Of course, they keep getting out and have sunk various ships and subs, and everyone is freaking out at the possibility that the project will be exposed.

As you’d expect from that last paragraph, this is where the film just falls apart. Everything from this point on is clichÈs we’ve seen used in literally hundreds of similar pictures, and the action stuff is beyond stupid. At least half a dozen times, various characters engage in firefights with combat shotguns and automatic weapons, all while in a submerged submarine. Thousands of rounds fly around in contained spaces, with practically nobody, and certainly not our leads, managing to catch a bullet.

Most annoying is that the sharks, inevitably, end up taking a back seat to the human villains. Yawn. This is partly due, no doubt, to the fact that the screentime of the CGI sharks were limited by the film’s budget. Even so, about 95% of these pictures take this route, and it’s extremely annoying. For what its worth, the human bad guys take a more dominant position here than in such other recent review subjects as Shark Zone or even Red Water. On the other hand, none of these three films proved completely awful, like, say, Beneath Loch Ness. Sadly, I found myself heartened by this, which only proves that I watch way too much direct-to-video crap. Still, if things continue to gradually improve, perhaps in an another ten years UFO or Lion’s Gate, et al, will turn out an actually decent flick or two.

  • Ah, a UFO (Unified Film Organization) movie. Boy, I haven’t reviewed one of these in months.
  • Sharks think nothing of repeatedly ramming steel bulkheads with their snouts. Those stories about sharks being diverted when struck about the nose are apparently grossly errant myths.
  • Large fires burn brightly in locales in which the oxygen level is low.
  • Isn’t it a little presumptuous to discuss the “last great discovery of the New Millennium,” given that it still has 996 years left to go? And what, pray tell, was the first great discovery of the New Millennium?
  • Looking at the weathered hunkiness that is Lorenzo Lamas here, I believe I understand why he continues to wear his hair so long. It’s because otherwise he would be a dead ringer for fellow tanning aficionado George Hamilton.
  • I’m sure Winston Churchill is very proud to have one of his epigram borrowed by the screenwriter of Dark Waters.
  • The *ahem* Austin Sisters are clearly based on a pair of real life semi-demi-celebrities. The film confirms that they are independently rich in their own right. So how, exactly, was Summerville able to convince them to engage in an act of kidnapping? I realize much or all of this sort of person’s fame is based notoriety born from ill behavior, but still, agreeing to commit a major federal offense, one that could result in decades in prison, seems a bit much.
  • I wouldn’t call it brilliant, but it was at least somewhat original to learn that Robin was more of a rogue than Dane. Her various depravations, we learn, including seducing a sixteen year-old (!), so as to get her hands on some of his personal stocks. As a bit of a gag, we learn that one of her aliases was Rachel Polanski. Ha! You can’t beat statutory rape humor.
  • Again, for all the typically bad action writing we’ll be getting later, there are signs early on that somebody was actually trying to think some of this through. When Summerville explains the situation at the drilling station, Dane replies, “This is a [U.S.] Navy problem.” Even if you don’t buy Summerville’s response, at least they raised the issue, which is frankly more than I expected.
  • There’s a nice little moment when Robin tries to hustle Summerville for more money. He readily accedes to her demands, and she realizes with some annoyance that she could have demanded more. Again, I don’t want to make this movie sound better than it is—especially given where it takes us later—but I liked the fact that not only did they make Robin and Dane conmen, but they turn out to be not especially good ones, either.
  • Lamas, in the Moment He Bares His Hidden Pain to Robin, explains that Summerville involved his father in government experiments involving genetic manipulation and cloning. This is so ludicrous, given that this means that these experiments began back in the ‘60s or early ‘70s (!), that they feel they have to at least try to address the issue. “Twenty-five years ago?” a disbelieving Robin inquires. “They were ahead of their time,” Dane replies. I’ll say! Even that grossly understates things, by the way, implying that the disappearance occurred around 1980. The flashbacks—which definitely have more of a 1960’s feel to them—to when Dane last saw his father make Dane appear to have been about ten years old at the time. (In fact, Dane latter establishes that he was nine when his father died.) Lamas, meanwhile, was born in 1958. Do the math.
  • Proving again that Dane isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, he asks one U.S. Navy submarine vet, a fellow apparently in his mid-twenties, whether he’d ever “seen action” with the “Russians.” “I’m afraid I was only nine years old the last time the U.S. and the then Soviet naval fleet were involved in any ‘action,’ sir,” the guy responds. That’s a funny line in itself, and more so as it’s presumably a comment on how many UFO films feature Russian villains, since they tend to be shot in Eastern Europe for financial reasons.
  • Again, it’s really too bad the film gets so much worse as it continues. In the beginning, there are actual signs that they were trying to at least shade the writing a little. The fact that Summerville isn’t a villain of operatic proportions is refreshing. Moreover, I especially liked the fact that the crew he provides for the Resolve is not only polite and professional, but actually rather more competent than Dane or Robin at running the boat.
  • Another nice bit occurs when the sub comes across the partially eaten remains of a dead gray whale. Since they only have enough money for so many actual shark scenes, this is a nice way to indicate their presence in an economical but foreboding fashion.
  • Things start to go awry shortly after the dead whale is found. All of the sudden, Robin is identified not only as a certified all-around genius (!), especially in matter dealing with technology, but when the action stuff starts she of course begins an unbelievably proficient ass-kicker. Given her abundantly displayed cleavage, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she was envisioned as being sort of a skankier Lara Croft type. However, the character was more palatable when she was smaller scaled. Of course, the film is shortly to become so generically stupid that making the leads more like those in several thousand other movies like this was inevitable.
  • Another nice moment occurs when Summerville learns that the Resolve’s outer cameras won’t work down at this depth because Dane was too cheap to install better ones.
  • They dock with the maintenance station and two of the crew are sent to retrieve the security tape. In a fairly funny bit, Summerville is extremely angered and frustrated to find that there isn’t one, because as mentioned before, the crewman inside the station was using the VCR to watch a porno tape. (Admittedly, you’d think they could have had two VCRs.)
  • One of the film’s first really dreadful moments occurs when a member of the highly trained crew, all top former U.S. Navy men—slackers don’t draw submarine duty—proves dumb enough to describe over an open com link the event at the station as an “attack.” Twice. Since Dane and Robin are meant to be kept in the dark, I found this utterly unbelievable. Of course, they wrote it this way so as to put Dane on his toes about Summerville having (duh) a secret agenda. Also on this note, even as eager as he is, why would Summerville play the tape now, when Dane and Robin could see it, since he was no doubt expecting it to show the sharks attacking the station?
  • The sharks attack the subs, sending it to the bottom of the ocean. This strands a small party, including Dane and Robin, of course, on the station. They nearly asphyxiate before being rescued at the last moment by the crew of the sub that’s acting as the secret base for the shark experiments. From here on out the movie begins aping every other one of these things, and basically just implodes, even by the modest standards of success it’s enjoyed up to now. There’s the evil government agency, the incredibly stupid action scenes, etc.
  • Like I said, at this point the really, really dumb moments start piling up. Looking at five red dots on a sonar screen, Robin opines, “If you’re asking me, I’d say that’s a coordinated shark attack.” Really? Would six blue octagons indicate a rescue party made up of scuba-diving giraffes?
  • I also liked when, during the attack, somebody died after being thrown against a projecting open metal pipe. Yeah, that’s a well-designed craft there.
  • Because it’s been so poorly established up to now, they actually have Robin say, “Remember, I’m the smart one.” At this point I was wondering if Dane would say something like, “Sadly, none of the master ninja skills I learned while wandering the Orient can help us here.” At least that would have been entertaining.
  • Continuing our descent into Davey Jones’ ClichÈ Locker, we learn that Summerville works for the CIA. This is where our most basic fears are realized, and we learn that we’re watching yet another film about an eee-vil guv’ment experiment gone awry.
  • The CIA sent Summerville, actually, to dig up info on the sharks, which is actually a super-secret Navy experiment. And how secret was it? “Nobody in the military has a handle on it. Nobody.” That’s pretty amazing, especially since we’ll later be told that this is a thirty-year, 18 billion dollar experiment involving at the very least an entire submarine and crew.
  • Once they are on the sub, the boat’s captain, who proves just slightly less stable than Captain Queeg, orders Our Protagonists killed. Cue various *cough* adventures until we get to the point where we’re supposed to cheer the deaths of every crewmember of a U.S. military vessel.
  • The raising of the safety bulkhead to reveal the glass-enclosed shark tank is a pretty neat moment, let it be said.
  • One of the guys actually comes up with a good escape plan (ignoring about a bazillion problems with implementing it). Of course, when they do escape, they don’t follow his scheme.

I hadn’t needed it up to now, but given the spiking stupidity levels following the destruction of the Resolve, it’s time to start up a Things I Learned list (concept courtesy of Andrew Borntreger):

  • Under pressure (literally; ha ha) trained military personnel will nearly always begin to crack.
  • If a trained government spOOk with classified info believes everyone around him is going to die, he’ll forget all his training and begin to blab the whole thing.
  • U.S. Marines are all gigantically muscled body-builder types.
  • The holding cells on Naval submarines, including those engaged in black bag ops, come equipped with manhole cover-sized ceiling grates that easily pop out and lead to air vents that are, needless to say, big enough to travel through.
  • The crews on U.S. Naval submarines are really, really stupid.
  • Any man, now matter how highly trained and under what circumstances, can be distracted by a woman’s cleavage.
  • Hitting someone in a contained area when more than half a dozen people are exchanging automatic weapon fire is surprisingly difficult.
  • Firing several thousand rounds under the above-described conditions will not result in a ricochet hazard.
  • Engaging in several lengthy firefights while in a deeply submerged submarine poses no overall safety risk. In fact, as noted above, the chances of getting shot during one are almost nil.
  • U.S. Marines assigned special black ops duties are generally outmatched in firefights and hand-to-hand combat by smaller numbers of civilians.
  • U.S. Marines on duty generally wear boots, camo pants and olive T-shirts with no rank insignia.
  • Everyone magically knows a Marine Officer’s rank, even though his olive T-shirt is, per standard operating procedures, devoid of rank insignia.
  • People running black bags operations always shrug things off when the experiments result in hundreds of civilian deaths. Can’t make an omelet, I guess.
  • A crew on a Naval black ops submarine, performing a mission so secret that “no one in the military has a handle on it,” will find nothing much unusual in civilians taking a tour of their boat while it’s thousands of feet under the ocean surface. This includes the standing bridge officer. At best, said officer won’t contact the captain or XO or, heaven forbid, ship security, but merely tell the civilians that they’ll have to leave the bridge.
  • The head security officer of a black ops submarine, trapped in the brig from which his prisoners have escaped, will not employ the huge opening to the air vent mentioned above.
  • Captains of naval vessels don’t relieve inept subordinates of duty, they “fire” them.
  • It’s really, really time to retire John Woo action moves, especially if you’re not John Woo.
  • It’s OK to swim through tanks holding man-eating, sub-sinking genetically modified sharks, because you can just safely assume that they’ll be “electronically sedated.”
  • One snarky, Tarantino-esque pop culture reference to “Sgt. Rock” is passable. Two separate ones by the same character smacks of laziness (or bad adlibbing). Also, Sgt. Rock was neither a Marine Corps Major nor a member of the U.S. Navy.
  • If you’re standing on a catwalk over a holding tank for massive killer sharks, and they start leaping up and consuming your comrades, you may wish to get off the catwalks before the same thing happens to you.
  • Apparently, though, this isn’t the first thing that will occur to many people under these circumstances.
  • Captains of U.S. naval submarines generally issue orders by shouting at his crewmen at the top of his lungs.
  • If you put a secret destruct option on a regular computer menu, no one will notice.
  • It’s possible that a grown man, including one who’s taken several tours on a submarine, has never heard the joke about a screen door on a submarine.
  • Having five gunfights doesn’t necessarily make a movie five times as exciting.
  • This movie’s ‘twist’ ending is really, really dumb. I mean, it’s amazing what you’ll learn while spending decades secretly doing genetic manipulation on sharks.


One sign that UFO’s budgets are gradually increasing is that this film boasts a ‘name’ star, by which I mean (no, really) Lorenzo Lamas. Lamas isn’t really what you could call an actor, but he provides what he was no doubt hired to provide, which is a Lorenzo Lamas performance. As you’d expect, he comes off worst when attempting to suggest the pain resulting from his father’s disappearance during his childhood. Even in his better moments, one couldn’t really call his performance here engaged. I’d say he’s as invested in this as he was in your average episode of Renegade. Still, he tosses out the quips and acts wryly macho when the script calls for it and gives as good a lead performance as you’re likely to find in a UFO flick.

As for the rest of the cast, it’s a mixed bag. The guy playing Summerville is pretty good, deftly underplaying his role in a manner that suggests he should be working in at least slightly better movies. The guy playing the sub captain is awful, having apparently based his performance on those moments between matches when screaming wrestlers hurl abuse and threats at their prospective opponents. Most of the actors, meanwhile, are just there. I guess if you don’t actually embarrass yourself in a movie like this, then you’re probably doing all right.

Then there’s Ms. Mackinnon. Frankly, the role as written is beyond her. She certainly dives right into it, and I’ll give credit for her game attempts to chew up the scenery, props, costars and all, and spit it all back out again. Sadly, however, her acting eyes prove bigger than her acting stomach. She’s just trying too hard, a fact especially highlighted by her generally appearing opposite the nearly inert Lamas. In the end, watching someone whose apparent aspiration is to be the next Claudia Christian isn’t an entirely satisfactory experience. She also needs to learn not to step on her quips so hard, especially when they’re of the quality provided by this script.

The use of CGI is the film is interesting. There’s a few more minutes of it, I think, again an indication that UFO’s budgets are creeping up. As well, as you’d expect, the quality of the stuff is gradually improving. The sharks don’t look real, but neither did the much more expensive CGI beasties of Deep Blue Sea. That film, at least, had enough money to sometimes portray the sharks with practical mock-ups, which still work better than animation at this point. Probably the worst moments for the sharks involve the brief shots of them rising up from their pool and snatching the hapless marines off the catwalks. Other shots, like the initial attack scene at the drilling station, are executed rather competently.

As usual with this sort of DTV fare, CGI is also used for establishing shots. The sets aren’t quite as unconvincing as the ones used in earlier flicks like Boa, meaning that the use of ambitious establishing shots of a huge CGI drilling station aren’t quite as jarring. CGI shots are also used to supplement the more standard stock footage shots. For instance, exteriors of a flying jet and shots of the ocean here are animated.

The film definitely has traces and echoes of the Megalodon flick Shark Hunter. Both feature now grown male protagonists who remain haunted by having lost parents as a child. Both use footage meant to look like old home movies to portray flashbacks. Both, of course, are killer shark movies. In any case, I was unsurprised to learn that both were also produced by one man, Phillip J. Roth. Mr. Roth also provided the story for Shark Hunter, and himself wrote the script and directed Dark Waters.

Mr. Roth remains arguably too regular a presence on this site. Without doubt, I am part of that core audience that allows him to keep making these films. In his roles as writer, director and producer, Mr. Roth has worked on such Jabootu-reviewed fare as Python, Python II, Shark Hunter and Boa. No doubt I will end up reviewing more of his canon in the years ahead. At least he is, at the moment, laying off the killer animal movies. Right now, he seems to be working on a Day After Tomorrow knock-off entitled P.I.: Post Impact. This features a new ice age triggered by a massive meteor strike, and stars Boa veteran Dean Cain.

Summary: A moderately OK start sunk by an awful second half.