‘Deep Water’ Offers Shallow Thrills (Movie Review)

During the 80s and 90s, erotic thrillers were a sound investment for any major studio. Films like 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, and Indecent Proposal were events. All but one of those films was directed by Adrian Lyne. Hard-R, adult-skewing movies were an active part of the cultural conversation. In the past two decades, Lyne has only directed one other film, 2002’s Unfaithful, starring Diane Lane. Lyne’s particular brand of highly charged sensual kicks could be considered a relic of a bygone era if they weren’t so well made and, frankly, memorable. Still, in an age overwhelmed by audience-friendly superhero flicks, could a simple story about a jealous husband and his promiscuous spouse top the box office like the movies that made household names out of Glenn Close, Sharon Stone, and Demi Moore? We’ll never know… okay, so actually we do, and the answer is no. Lyne’s latest will be debuting this weekend exclusively on Hulu. Deep Water pairs Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas: two stars ready to raise their body heat.

Set in New Orleans, Affleck plays Vic Van Allen, the kind of well-to-do dude that wants for nothing financially. His adorably witty daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins) belts out disco in their SUV and sings children’s songs with the help of Alexa. Meanwhile, Vic’s wife, Melinda (Armas), is as spontaneous as Vic is cold and calculating. The Van Allen’s have an open relationship. As the film opens, Vic clearly wants it closed.

There’s an alternate universe where Nancy Meyers makes tastefully curated erotic thrillers while Adrian Lyne churns out tastefully curated romcoms like The Intern (An underrated Anne Hathaway/Robert DeNiro two-hander). Over the years, both filmmakers have fashioned B-movie premises into lovingly crafted aesthetic objects.

The lines on a woman’s back often take a back seat to a more seductive kitchen countertop full of the best pots and pans from the latest Crate & Barrel catalog. Both Lyne and Meyers are catering to the same crowd. The fantasy isn’t just about seeing sexy stars flirt or, in Lynne’s case, have overly edited sex, but where exactly it occurs. Never underestimate the thrill of fine hardwood floors or a ceiling window that allows just the right amount of light to seep into a luxurious home. The real porn of both these auteurs has always been a display of perfectly staged wealth that feels lived in.

There’s really nothing shocking or even surprising in Lyne’s latest effort on a plot level. Vic jokes early on to a potential suitor for Melinda that he killed her last lover. Affleck’s tall 6’4″ frame drawfs the naive young guy, easily scaring the shit out of him. We’re not sure if Vic is joking, but we’re pretty sure bodies will turn up by the final reel. And we know that deep in her heart Melinda both fears Vic and feeds off his jealously. Will there be twists and turns? Sure, but it’s a road most of us have taken. Many times.

That’s not necessarily a dealbreaker. Affleck is clearly having fun leaning into playing a more sociopathic character. He even borrows some of his fussy mannerisms from his last thriller, The Accountant. Likewise, Armas dials up her mania, which reminded me of her memorable role a few years back in Eli Roth’s sexual thriller co-starring Keanu Reeves, Knock Knock.

The issue making Deep Water an entertaining distraction instead of a genuine page-turner is a lack of curiosity. The script by Sam Levinson and Zach Helm is an adaptation of the novel by Patricia Highsmith. Her greatest book-to-screen adaptation, The Talented Mr. Ripley, starred Affleck’s BFF, Matt Damon in a chilling performance. One wishes Vic or Melinda had more of what made the titular Ripley so fascinating — namely, a  psychology that was not just unpredictable but also vulnerable. Affleck and Armas can only elevate the material so much, leaving the film just outside the deep end of something richer.

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