Black Water, the debut feature from former cinematographer Pasha Patriki, impresses not just for how many beginner pitfalls it stumbles over but for how the movie builds anticipation for collaboration between its two headlining stars, and then fails to deliver.
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Scott Wheeler, a CIA agent suspected of being a traitor and taken prisoner aboard a nuclear submarine repurposed as a CIA black site. Being the trope character he is, Wheeler quickly escapes captivity and disappears into the bowels of the sub, aided by two other agents. He must now somehow clear his name while avoiding the seemingly endless legions of surly, bearded dudes the CIA throws at him. If only there was another action star of similar vintage to help, one who's appeared in movies with Van Damme before (four times) and is given top billing.
Enter the Dolph. JCVD's former Universal Soldier costar Dolph Lundgren plays Marco, another prisoner. From his early introduction and historical connection to his costar, it's understandable to assume Black Water will be a badass team-up picture, with the two action veterans circle kicking bad guys side by side. But as the movie drags along, with Wheeler looking like a man whose only mission is to grab some Zs, it becomes apparent this won't be the case. Marco isn't even sprung until the third act, and although Van Damme visibly brightens up for the few moments they're together, Lundgren is barely onscreen for 15 minutes.
Criminal negligence of Dolph is far from Black Water's only sin -- there's also the sluggish pacing, murky musical score and somnambulant lead -- but it might be its most egregious.