Two completely different movies live within the soul of Deep Water, and both of them are bad: On the one level, director Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal) delivers a humid, trashy dime store thriller, where a good-looking cast throws pouty tantrums and engages in thoroughly mechanical lovemaking. Dive further into the film’s allegedly deep water, and you’ll find it desperately wants you to buy into all this languid, breathy claptrap as something arty and significant. The truth is, Deep Water‘s constant use of slugs as symbolism only comes to represent the script, which humps along for two hours with no clear destination in mind, leaving a trail of ickiness in its wake.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s well-regarded novel, Lyne’s sweaty epic centers on a toxic yuppie couple. Vic (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas) are intelligent, pretty, and miserable. Their sham marriage endures because it stays open-ended: She can take unlimited lovers, as long as she stays tethered to Vic and Trixie (Grace Jenkins), their young daughter. However, as with most open marriages, jealousy and bitterness end up poisoning the well. When we first meet Vic, he is growing openly hostile to Melinda’s whirling carousel of hookups.
During an early party scene, Vic corners Joel, one of Melinda’s hunky flings (Brendan C. Miller, who looks like Kurt Cobain and sounds like Brad Pitt), and informs him that the last guy who got handsy with his wife is now deader than disco. To put a finer point on it, that guy is gone because Vic killed him. Duly freaked out, Melinda’s new guy heads for the hills. Well, word gets around that Vic was just giving Joel a hard time. Wooo-weeee! Vic’s sense of humor is a real high-wire act, ain’t it? Anyway, Melinda arranges a private conversation, so Vic can apologize to Joel. Except, Vic tells Joel he can’t do that, because he really killed that other guy. Joel rightfully hauls his frat boy ass outta there.
That’s no worry, as Melinda always has another sculpted doofus swinging in the batter’s box. For most of its second act, the movie settles into a formula: She spots her next studly victim, gets looped on cocktails, and grinds all over the guy like a horny teenager. Vic turns into a jealous monster, and accosts the guy with his sociopathic spiel. Melinda is indignant over Vic’s craziness. Murder may nor may not ensue. I won’t give anything away, but rest assured the movie telegraphs its own plot well in advance.
What ya get for all that is a bunch of raunchy shenanigans, but absolutely no real heat: Lots of Vic and Melinda staring at each other across crowded parties, biting their lips and rubbin’ on other people. Lots of rollin’ around nekked in bed, but I’ll swear there are Golden Girls episodes with more passion than this. (And the episode where the girls do a mystery weekend has more genuine suspense.) This builds to a particularly ridiculous ending. Again, I don’t aim to spoil your streaming experience, but I will say that at one point, Affleck rides his bike so fast, it might as well be mounted to Wile E. Coyote’s rocket pack. The final scene lands with such a thunk, I half-expected to hear that Monty Python farting noise as the credits rolled.
This is all damn shame, as Lyne has built a celebrated career around the ethical and spiritual conundrums of a good ol’ roll in the hay. (Water is his first film since 2002’s Unfaithful.) Affleck and de Armas are both exceptional actors, and there’s powerful chemistry beneath all this lazy writing. Affleck especially scores, playing a man who turns smug, sociopathic detachment into a kind of zen-like existence. Even though Water amounts to two bad movies, there was potential within either one: Add a little more wit and spark, this could’ve been a salacious guilty pleasure. Or, with a few more insights into the warfare of an open marriage, we might be seeing an award-worthy spectacle. As it is, Deep Water delivers half the movie for twice the cost.
115 min. R. Hulu.