Submerged (2005) (part 1 of 6)

The Cast of Characters:
Submerged (2005) (part 1 of 6) Chris Cody (Steven Seagal). CODY! Ahem, sorry. Seagal gives off a distinct Joe Don Baker vibe in this film, if Mr. Baker decided to sleepwalk through a role and not even pretend to give a damn. Cody is Seagal’s usual character, special ops, nobody can touch him, never gets hurt, yadda yadda. The only difference is it’s even less plausible than usual.
Submerged (2005) (part 1 of 6) Henry (Vinnie Jones). Cody’s right hand man, and a hell of a lot more heroic than the purported main character. At the very least, he looks like he can run from one side of a room to the other without his heart exploding.
Submerged (2005) (part 1 of 6) Adrian Lehder (Nick Brimble). Our Dennis Hopper-esque villain who… Well, he’s a war criminal who’s an expert in brainwashing and um… Yeah, that’s about it for this guy, actually.
Submerged (2005) (part 1 of 6) Dr. Susan Chappell (Christine Adams). A dead ringer for WNBA star Lisa Leslie, she fulfills the genre’s requirement for a brainy female character that exists only to be rescued.
Submerged (2005) (part 1 of 6) Agent Fletcher (William Hope). CIA agent… I think. Regardless, he turns out to be the standard turncoat agent in league with the bad guys. And no, he’s not working on his Alice Cooper impersonation in the picture. It’s a long story, really.

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Observe, if you will, the sad case of Steven Seagal. Once thought to be the Next Big Thing in the action movie world, he quickly fell into a downward spiral of egomania, bizarre paranoid statements, and super-sized meals. He got off to a solid start with his first four films: Above the Law was pretty good, and Hard to Kill, Marked for Death and Out for Justice were serviceable bits of cheesy action fun. He even followed up all of these with an actual quality piece of filmmaking called Under Siege.

But his stock plummeted following his directorial debut, the disastrous On Deadly Ground. He quickly tried to wash away the bad taste in his audience’s mouth with the adequate sequel Under Siege 2, and a very satisfying small role in Executive Decision. But following that, it’s been a never-ending stream of putridity, in varying degrees. He’s gone from having his films shown in, you know, actual theaters, to the dark realm known as direct-to-video. This is where most washed up action heroes go to die; Meaning that Segal has now joined the proud ranks of Jeff Speakman, Brian Bosworth, Jean-Claude van Damme, and Michael Dudikoff.

That, of course, is the ultimate fate for many an action star, unless A) he’s actually a good actor who knows when to take it down a notch, B) he has two solid, reliable characters he can go back to in case of emergency, or C) he can get into politics. Yep, Bruce Willis, Sly Stallone, and The Governator might truly be the smartest guys in Hollywood (failed restaurant chain notwithstanding). Think about that and try to get to sleep tonight.

But we are talking about Seagal, after all, and in a rather odd twist of fate, his physical appearance has deteriorated just as swiftly as the quality of his movies (not that either one was all that exceptional to begin with). In the place of an imposing 6 foot 4 sensei, there’s now an out of shape slug with the reflexes of a drunken water buffalo. Seagal’s physical presence these days is a lot like his DTV output, which, in turn, is a lot like his last few theatrical releases: bloated, incoherent, and slow.

I’m examining one of his more recent films, Submerged. Not really sure why it’s called that, as only about ten minutes or so take place in an actual submerged state. Maybe it’s the filmmakers’ subliminal way of saying that you’re in for an ocean of crap if you decide to watch this movie. I’m guessing Submerged wants to be a Tom Clancy-esque thriller, and to a certain extent, it succeeds: It’s overlong, overly complicated, dumber than hell, dull as dishwater, and about as enjoyable as a snow shovel to the face.

On another note, this movie was distributed by Nu Image, suppliers of horrible monster movies for the Sci-Fi Channel and, apparently, Seagal’s current studio of choice. Yes, he’s gone from making films for Warner Brothers to supporting an outfit that probably celebrates whenever they’re lucky enough to score a debut on basic cable.

One last, final note (I promise). This review will be shorter than normal, because it seems this film isn’t too keen on things actually “happening”. Accordingly, I don’t want anyone to die from boredom reading about all the non-events, myself included. So, just trust that whenever I gloss over the details in this film, you’re not missing anything vital.

Appropriately, the film opens with random images. We’ll soon learn this a key plot point, at least in the technical sense of the phrase. These images primarily show a woman standing at the edge of a huge, fiery pit, while another woman’s voice is heard, with each sentence repeated.

Woman’s voice: Imagine if you could sear images into the brain’s neo-cortex. You’d only process incoming information the way I told you to. I speak, you listen. I order, you obey. [Well yeah, one would think.]

The rest of the cast credits play over flash cuts of vaguely disturbing images, which would normally indicate we’re in for a horror film. Not this time, unfortunately. Unless your idea of horror is Steven Seagal trying to act. Which, to be fair, is pretty damn scary.

Fade to white, which then fades to a huge flowing wall of water. This is revealed to be a dam, which for some reason is shot in three crossfades rather than a regular pullback move. The next shot is simply hilarious though, because it’s the most obvious model plane work I’ve seen since the last time I watched a Roger Corman film. No, wait, I take that back. It’s not even that good.

This airplane looks like the kind of present your grandmother gives you for your birthday when you’re a toddler and she figures, “Hey, he’s only three. I could give him a stale dog turd and he’d be happy.” The effect is just amazingly bad, and the models will only get worse from here on in. (The upcoming submarine models look shockingly like bathtub toys. If, in fact, they aren’t just that.)

There’s another shot of the plane, this one even more embarrassingly close, which reveals a camera on the undercarriage. The spy camera snaps photos, which we get to see in quick flash cuts (of course). I don’t know if they intended for this to be an unmanned spy plane, but even if they did, it’s just a pathetic effort from everyone involved. Maybe you think I’m harping on this too much, but believe me: It doesn’t even come close to looking realistic. This plane looks like it should be wrapped up under a Christmas tree.

Caption contributed by Ed

Wow, Aurora Models has a Department of Defense contract!

A convoy of military-looking vehicles pass through a gate by the dam. This results in more quick cuts, with accompanying camera noises. Okay, great, so I think we’ve established the purpose of a camera here, folks. Thanks. Can we move on now?

Cut to the US Embassy in Uruguay, which I only know because of the helpful caption. Here, two official-looking types, a man and a woman, climb up a staircase while bantering about donuts. (Don’t ask.) Another guy in a suit comes towards them and tells the woman, whose name is Baxter (and who appears to be the US ambassador), that intelligence has come in regarding an underground lab. This abruptly takes us back out to the dam, where several soldiers (including at least one guy with shoulder length hair [!]) come running out.

Captain Longhair stops trucks as they approach. He tells a man with a cane (whose face we do not see) to stay inside, warning that “the Americans are watching”. The guy with the cane replies, “Don’t presume to give me orders,” in a line rather obviously dubbed in post, and even more obviously meant to sound like Dennis Hopper. Don’t get your hopes up, though. The closest you’ll get to a genuine Dennis Hopper appearance here will be a strong desire to be heavily zonked out on drugs during the latter half of the movie.

There are more jump cuts to the pictures the spy camera is taking (Geez, enough already!). And then we’re yanked back to the Uruguayan Embassy. Baxter is briefed on the dam by her nameless colleague (who, for the sake of simplicity, I shall dub Donut Boy, since we’ll never learn anything about him aside from his pastry preferences).

After a shot of random guys in suits walking in slow motion, we cut back to the toy plane. A huge jet fighter flies beside it, which only makes the spy plane look even faker. You know, I’m fairly certain jet fighters don’t operate like patrol cars, and I’m pretty sure they have to move faster than this to stay airborne.

Captain Longhair—evidently, the man in charge—gives the order to fire. This results in a bad model of the jet firing a missile that destroys the toy plane. Farewell, model plane. You delighted us with your fakeness.

Caption contributed by Ed

Reason #1 why low budget films should never mix special effects techniques in scenes.

Back at the Embassy, Baxter and Donut Boy are apparently looking at photos taken by the spy plane. They’re focusing on the guy with the cane, who’s also wearing a hat and a white suit. Since he, just like Captain Longhair, will not be named for quite some time, I’ll just call him Fake Hopper.

Back at the dam, Captain Longhair answers Fake Hopper’s first line (about the presuming and the giving of the orders) with “And those who have power give orders.” Hmm. I guess he never worked in retail.

Captain Longhair proceeds to remind Fake Hopper that it was he who sought Captain Longhair’s protection. After an incoherent response (unfortunately, there’s a lot of these—the sound mix is abominable, and there are no subtitles on the DVD), Fake Hopper turns and the Captain childishly flips him off. Seriously, this is the kind of thing you’d do if you were pissed off at your dad for grounding you for a month.

Caption contributed by Ed

“Oh yeah? Well, I didn’t want to borrow the car anyway!”

Fake Hopper takes out a small device, complete with a keyboard and screen, and types in a code. Meanwhile, back at the Embassy, Baxter is talking and we learn that Captain Longhair’s real name is Colonel Jorge Hilan, and that he’s an “old school” warlord. Baxter questions why he’s working with Fake Hopper, so of course we cut back to Fake Hopper’s device, and it’s here that some of the random imagery seen in the opening credits reappears.

We whip back to the Embassy, where Donut Boy and the other guys suddenly get Excedrin Headache Number Five. Donut Boy looks up with a zoned out look in his eyes. As you might expect, I can relate.

We zoom in on his eyeball (actually, several jump cuts instead of one simple camera motion, once again) and the random imagery is repeated. One of the other guys suddenly draws his weapon and begins firing. Baxter is killed, along with several Marines, and Donut Boy has a Mexican standoff with the other two guys who did the shooting. The screen goes white as one of them fires. Fade to Baxter and Donut Boy and all the others splayed out dead.

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: Submerged (2005)

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