Film Review: Submerged

Six college friends and their driver are trapped underwater in a high-tech limousine in this undistinguished but perfectly watchable thriller.
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Matt (Jonathan Bennett) wakes up to a nightmare: He's in the front seat of a luxury limo at the bottom of a Florida canal. There's an unconscious girl slumped next to him, and four of her terrified friends are splashing around in the passenger area. On the plus side, the car's GPS is still working, so there's a chance they might be found. On the minus side...well, pretty much everything else is a minus.

Matt is pinned in place by a piece of metal that's gone straight through one thigh and into the seat. The car isn't full of water yet, but it's leaking steadily. Matt's cellphone isn't working and the unconscious girl–Jessie Searles (Talulah Riley)–is the daughter of his boss (Tim Daly), who's not just paying Matt to be Jessie's driver. He's paying Matt to keep Jessie safe, specifically from kidnappers. And while Matt did keep the vanload of masked rich-girl snatchers who rushed them on a causeway from taking Jessie, she is not now safe by any sane definition of the word. Jessie's friends are all freaking out, some faster and more dramatically than others, and one of them might have had a hand in the botched abduction. There's only enough oxygen for perhaps an hour, and it's entirely possible that the tide will drag them out to sea before they suffocate.

Fortunately for everyone, Matt isn't just a chauffeur: He's an ex-army ranger, so if anyone has both the smarts and the discipline to get them out, it's him.

Aquaphobes beware: Submerged is a strong contender for the title of "2015 Release Most Likely to Give You an Anxiety Attack," no matter how many times you remind yourself that everyone in that car can't drown, because this is an action thriller, not a despairing, existential meditation on the inevitability of awful death. It's also not a one-set piece: The claustrophobic scenes within the confines of the downed car alternate with terra firma flashbacks that reveal Matt's history (heavy on the roots of his psychological damage); the specifics of the events that led up to the dive into darkness; and Matt's relationship with best-bro Hector (Mario Van Peebles) and the cobalt-blue ’60s Firebird Matt has been painstakingly restoring in his spare time.

None of which adds up to a thought-provoking or challenging 99 minutes at the movies, but surely that's not what director-editor Steven C. Miller and writer Scott Milam had in mind: Submerged is a channel-surfing grabber, the kind of movie most viewers will run across on cable and get sucked into because they just want to see how that blandly attractive dude surrounded by spoiled, hysterical brats with showoffy haircuts is going to MacGyver his way out of what appears to be a hopeless situation. And hey, sometimes that's a plan.

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