Thanks to the stellar 2000 TV movie Cheaters, 2001's Crazy/Beautiful, and 2002's Blue Crush, writer-director John Stockwell has earned a reputation for injecting youth-oriented projects with sensitivity, intelligence, and a refreshing sense of class-consciousness. But his winning streak comes to a dramatic halt with the laughably awful new thriller Into The Blue, a film as shallow and unconvincing as his earlier films were accomplished and authentic.
Then again, Stockwell—who has coaxed memorable turns from Cheaters' Jena Malone and Crazy/Beautiful's Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez—has two big liabilities in leads Paul Walker and Jessica Alba, thespians whose talent and range seem to bear an inverse relationship to their physical attractiveness. It's remarkable that they're able to spend so much time underwater, considering the wooden nature of their performances. In a turn that only solidifies his standing as arguably the worst actor of his generation, Walker stars as a struggling scavenger who stumbles upon a sunken plane full of cocaine, alongside girlfriend Alba, scenery-chewing pal Scott Caan, and Caan's hard-partying new conquest Ashley Scott. The unscrupulous Caan wants to unload the coke and split the money, but Walker and Alba want nothing to do with the cocaine, especially once it arouses the attention of a group of ruthless smugglers.
Stockwell has previously shown a deft ear for the language and emotions of young people, but that gift wholly abandons him here. Matt Johnson's atrocious script feels like a veritable encyclopedia of outdated slang, from "dawg" to "P-Diddy Juice" to the use of "cheddar" as a synonym for cash. At one point, Walker even describes something, without a hint of irony or self-consciousness, as "gnarly," a term that should have died with Moon Unit Zappa's career as a hitmaker. As the film heads into darker thriller territory, Walker and Alba fail to keep pace. When Alba yells "Shut up, you coke whore!" to Scott in the film's most unintentionally hilarious moment (among quite a few candidates), she sounds like a second grader only vaguely familiar with what the term "coke whore" even means. Stockwell's previous efforts have functioned a little like Trojan horses, smuggling smarts and substance into teen-friendly packages. Into The Blue is a bit of a Trojan Horse as well. Though marketed as brain-dead youth fodder, it's even worse than it looks.