J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Submerged: Occupy the Limo, Underwater

The Searles household limo is no James Bond vehicle. It might be well-fortified, which will come in handy, but it also sinks like a stone, which will be a problem. The intrepid family retainer-bodyguard-driver will have to think fast to save his boss’s daughter in Steven C. Miller’s way-better-than-you-expect Submerged (trailer here), an IFC Midnight release screening this weekend in New York.

Initially, it looks like Matt is not doing such a great job protecting Jessie Searles, but as we soon learn from flashbacks, he fought off a large contingent of armed would-be kidnappers rather efficiently. He reasonably assumed she and her club kid friends would be safe once they reached the new limo, considering it is basically a tank with a wet bar. However, when the gang forces them off the bridge, things quickly get dire. While battery power keeps the lights on, the rest of the electrical system is kaput, freezing the doors and windows. Unless they figure a way out, the undertow will drag them out to sea, where they are likely to never be heard from again. Of course, the bad guys are also still out there.

Despite the frequent flashbacks (always a dangerous proposition), Submerged is a surprisingly lithe and economical thriller. Matt’s Army Ranger background is a double blessing, making him a credible action figure as well as a cool and collected (but not particularly talkative) protagonist. His ambiguous relationship with Jessie Searles rather works in context, but the backstory involving his kid brother’s suicide gets a little melodramatic.

What is really bold about Submerged is the villains’ explicit class warfare rhetoric. Frankly, the limo might as well have been attacked by Bernie Sanders. Matt’s boss Hank Searles is also refreshingly positioned as a conscientious boss, forced to initiate a round of layoffs to protect the rest of his employees and the community, but for the conspirators, that is reason enough for him and his daughter to suffer and potentially die.

While his restraint is appreciated, Jonathan Bennett’s Matt is almost too understated for an action lead. However, Tim Daly (yes, from Wings) is quite charismatic and even compelling as the decent but naïve Hank Searles. Mario Van Peebles also adds some vigor and attitude as the Q behind the Searles limo.

Miller juggles the various revelations relatively well and manages to make a film about six people trapped in a sinking limo never feel stagey or narrowly focused. One of the better commercially-conceived American thrillers released this year, Submerged screens round midnight tomorrow and Saturday (11/27, 11/28) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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