Drowning by Numbers


Resurrected by one of Hollywood’s slicker scams, the director’s cut, Luc Besson’s 1988 The Big Blue is among the least likely films to benefit from a padded rerelease. Two hours of melodramatic eye candy may be good fun, but three hours is slow torture. A featherweight pulp romance grounded in junior-high notions of love and sacrifice, The Big Blue worked best as camp. Reclusive deep-water diver Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr), haunted by his father’s drowning, is goaded by boyhood rival Enzo (Jean Reno) into competing for the world free-diving championship. Jacques and Enzo bond during the globe-trotting competition, while daffy American insurance investigator Johanna (Rosanna Arquette) tags along and falls for Jacques. She comes between the two men, and more importantly between Jacques and his true passion: the sea, or dolphins, or something. The results are predictably lachrymose, especially with the reinstated “unhappy” ending from the original French version.

It’s unclear if the Samuel Goldwyn Company needed a quick summer release or Besson wanted to atone for last year’s disastrous The Messenger with a past success. Besson is no master storyteller—his movies succeed by virtue of their highly stylized imagery, and in its underwater scenes The Big Blue looks and feels unlike any other film. But the added material is little more than plodding exposition. Besson’s cast gamely plays along with his fondness for cartoonish characterization, which is only magnified by the bloat. The American actors—Arquette, Griffin Dunne, and a scenery-gobbling Paul Shenar—seem to enjoy trying to keep straight faces, while Barr (whose career as an international sex symbol was apparently cut short by male-pattern baldness) is suitably pretty and brooding. Only Jean Reno seems to be on Besson’s wavelength, though: Delightfully over-the-top even in deadpan repose, he’s a welcome reminder of the director’s more surefooted films.