Another wet thriller at sea, Dead Water is derivative (think every terror-on-a-boat plot from 1941’s The Sea Wolf to 1989’s Dead Calm, and dozens in between), contrived and nothing special. But the cinematography is beautiful (filming in the Virgin Islands, you’d have to be a moron to make a movie that looks ugly) and the four-member cast is easy to take. Not the worst way to spend 90 minutes on a hot day.
In the flimsy script by Jason Usry, adequately directed by Chris Helton, David Cooper (Griff Furst), a decorated Marine everyone calls “Coop”—haunted by memories of combat in Afghanistan, suspicious of everyone and prone to violence—returns from action anxious to get back to normal life with his beautiful wife Vivian (Brianne Davis). In his absence, Viv was looked after by Coop’s buddy John (pin-up boy Casper Van Dien), unaware that John has fallen in love with Viv.
DEAD WATER ★★
Under the guise of friendship, John, a rich surgeon, invites the couple to pick up his new 75-foot luxury yacht. Instead of peace, rest and escape from big-city stress, they find trouble. As soon as they hit open water, they find uneasy personality conflicts. While the two men work to resolve their differences, an odd fishing boat draws near but moves on without so much as a greeting. Then, the electricity fails and the computer system goes down, stranding them in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone signals, coasting in dead water. Coop takes the rubber dinghy and goes for help, leaving his wife with the handsome, ruthless John.
Tension begins late, but builds rapidly after Coop is captured by the rogue sailor turned pirate on the mysterious fishing boat he saw earlier. The new girlfriend called Sam that John has been boasting about to his friends turns out to be no girl at all, but the pirate himself (played by former Brat Packer Judd Nelson, all grown up into a scruffy, hirsute roughneck ready for character roles). This Sam proceeds to the yacht, shoots Coop and kidnaps Vivian.
Plot twists multiply, turning Dead Water into nothing more than one huge red herring in an attempt to distract viewers from the sorry fact that nothing of substance is really happening. In the film’s biggest snafu, Pirate Sam turns out to be an assassin hired by John to kill Coop so that he can claim Vivian for himself.
The nicest surprise is that Van Dien, long ago dismissed as an 8 x 10 glossy in B-movie epics in need of beefcake, turns out to be more than just another pretty face. Dead Water won’t enhance his career much, but he serves the material nicely as a craggy villain. It’s a satisfactory thriller, long on blue skies and crystal, sun-kissed water, but short on logic.