Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 8, 2018)
Aging action heroes Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren reunite for 2018’s Black Water. Scott Wheeler (Van Damme) works as a “deep-cover operative” until the CIA captures him because they believe he “changed sides”.
Wheeler winds up in a submarine-based “black site” where the agents press him for information. Wheeler ends up double-crossed by rogue elements, so he teams with inexperienced agent Cassie Taylor (Jasmine Waltz) and fellow inmate Marco (Lundgren) to survive.
As story ideas go, that’s not a terrible one, even if it seems reminiscent of 2013’s Escape Plan. Perhaps that’s logical, since Plan also provided a team-up for action icons.
Of course, with Arnold Schwarzenegge and Sylvester Stallone as the leads, Plan went with one-time “A-list” actors. Neither Lundgren nor Van Damme ever reached their heights, as even at their respective peaks, they made “B”-level at best.
Unlike Schwarzenegger and Stallone, though, Lundgren and Van Damme starred together prior to the 21st century. They first starred in 1992’s Universal Soldier, a flick probably best remembered as the one that launched the Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin union that proved so fruitful in the 1990s.
Both also worked together in 21st century Soldier sequels. Van Damme came back for 1999’s Universal Soldier: The Return, but Lundgren didn’t join him until 2009’s Regeneration.
As seen in Water, Van Damme looks tired beyond his years. At 57, he’s no spring chicken, but he’s also only two years older than Tom Cruise, and the latter continues to show excellent stunt chops.
Van Damme seems sluggish, and this impacts his ability to play the action hero. No one expects the 57-year-old Van Damme to demonstrate the acrobatics he displayed 25 years ago, but he now seems barely able to walk, much less portray a credible combatant.
It doesn’t help that Van Damme never learned how to act. He seemed stiff and unnatural in his heyday, and that hasn’t changed. He remains unconvincing in the role.
To my semi-surprise, Lundgren fares a bit better, at least in terms of acting chops. Granted, the movie asks less of him, as Lundgren fills much less screen time than Van Damme, but he brings a decent sense of personality to the role.
Or maybe Lundgren just looks good because everyone else seems so awful. The remaining cast members come across as flat and amateurish too much of the time, and they can’t add anything to their parts.
Not that excellent acting would’ve helped, as Water suffers from too many flaws. It provides action that lacks sizzle or excitement and a generally clumsy sense of filmmaking that makes it a chore to watch.