BLACK WATER. Van Damme and Lundgren came for the check

Unfortunately few today still remember how to make action movies.

Jarosław Kowal

6 July 2023

Some people – including me – just see the name Van Damme or Lundgren on the cover and already there is an irresistible desire to watch the contents. After all, one practiced blood sports and kickboxing, the other fought Rocky and became the first Punisher, and together they crushed copies as Universal Soldiers. Usually, however, a quarter of an hour is enough to bury hopes, because unfortunately few today still remember how to make action movies.

It’s hard to expect splits and stunts from sixty-year-olds. The clash with biology cannot be won, but The Expendables proved that it is possible to age gracefully. Unfortunately, the directorial debut of Pasha Patriki (so far specializing in shooting similar, low-budget productions under the sign of a pistol and tense biceps) does not bear the hallmarks of a film self-aware of the convention to which it belongs, it does not use its strongest points, but it falls into all the traps that less talented workmen accidentally pawned at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s.

The plot was constructed by Chad Law, a specialist in nightmares in which former movie stars grab a razor. By reenacting his scripts, they were dying of Cuba Gooding Jr. or John Cusack, and pretty much every time we’re dealing with a similar set of patterns. In Black Water, there’s a framed agent, a shoddy romance with a much younger actress, and the infamous fridging of killing a sweetheart (so unsurprising that it’s hardly a spoiler) in order to increase the motivation, heroism, and drama of the main character.

The biggest “inspiration” had to be Escape Plan – the first film in which the titans Stallone and Schwarzenegger met on the screen in the lead roles. However, while their escape from the Super Prison could be addictive, the underwater Super Prison of the Class B Titans is mostly filled with boredom. The idea of placing convicts under the ocean’s surface must look tempting, after all, leaving such a place cannot be easy, but it is neither a new idea (for example, in the world of Marvel movies there is a similar object – Raft), nor practical. A report prepared by the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory shows that a long stay in the airtight conditions of a cramped capsule is associated with sleep problems, intrusive noise, claustrophobia and lack of sunlight. In short, it is not without reason that this vision has not yet been implemented. This is nothing more than torture, which would increase the level of frustration and aggression among prisoners and thus increase the risk of rebellion.

But enough of this realism, it’s an action movie with Van Damme! Except that in return for giving up looking through the prism of the real world, we get absolutely nothing. It’s easy to believe in the Timecop or a post-apocalyptic Cyborg when the holes in the story are patched up by great fight choreography, explosions and cast dedication. You won’t find anything like it in Black Water.

The Belgian muscleman doesn’t want to. His tired face shows that he was motivated to take the role only by a bank transfer. It didn’t fare as badly as Liam Neeson in Taken – I know I’ve mentioned this series dozens of times, but it’s hard to find a better example of the decline of modern action cinema – but short shots and close-ups take away the dynamics of duels, make them boring and unengaging. In the United States, the film was rated R, but it’s hard to say why. There is some profanity here and there, but you’ll see more brutal clashes even in Star Wars, and in addition a decision was made to abandon the use of blood. Most likely, this was due to the difficulty in creating decent-looking digital blood, because today who would want to waste time cleaning the set and washing costumes smeared with corn syrup.

Black Water is an action movie in name only, because there is little real action here. Dolph Lundgren mostly sits or does push-ups, only entering the game around the seventieth minute, but apart from exchanging clichéd dialogue and taking a few shots, he does little. It’s hard to understand why most producers, directors and writers can’t take advantage of the still strong nostalgia for the heyday of VHS tapes. It would be enough to change the perspective, gain distance, increase the level of exaggeration so that intentionality instead of inefficiency clearly results from it. It doesn’t have to be Machete right away, but if “indestructible” veterans came across stories with proportions of kitsch, action and plot close to John Wick, their brilliance would not have to fade even today.

In the last scenes of Black Water, the creators left the door open to create a sequel. Let’s hope, however, that the gate will be slammed shut and the former Universal Soldiers will not once again have to become universal actors who, for lack of other options, agree to give their names to the parasites preying not only on them, but also on us, the incorrigibly sentimental viewers .