THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


There have been dozens of books and movies devoted to the idea of down-on-their-luck characters stumbling upon untold riches of some kind. The latest of these is Into the Blue, whose plot will seem very familiar to anyone who has seen a movie in the last thirty years. Paul Walker plays Jared, a wannabe treasure hunter in the Bahamas. Jaredís boat is run-down and leaky, but his girlfriend Sam (Jessica Alba) is staggeringly gorgeous. They dream of someday finding something of value on the ocean floor that will raise their income level to something beyond near-poverty.

When Jaredís friend Bryce (Scott Caan) arrives for a visit with 14-hour girlfriend Amanda (Ashley Scott) in tow, the foursome heads out for a scuba excursion. They stumble upon the wreckage of a plane, and inside they find dozens of bundled packages filled with cocaine. Around this time, they also find some items (including a large knife) that may come from a mythical ship believed to have sunk centuries before. Finding the rest of that wreckage could mean tens Ė or even hundreds Ė of millions of dollars. However, they donít have the necessary equipment to keep searching. The question arises: should they sell the cocaine and use it to fund their expedition?

Jared and Sam donít think so; theyíre not drug dealers and donít want to do anything illegal. Bryce thinks they can do it without getting caught. Amanda goes a step further, trying to make a deal with a local pusher (Tyson Beckford). Before long, the owner of the drugs learns that his stash has been found and comes after the group. Under Jaredís direction, a plan is formulated to get the drug kingpin off their back and still claim the wreckage.

Some movies benefit from being silly, and Into the Blue is one of them. Thereís really no way to tell this story realistically. Itís just too far-fetched. (Iím even leaving out a few plot threads in order to avoid spoilers.) The only way to make it work is to invite the audience in for a wild ride. To its credit, the movie happily obliges in silliness. I was especially amused by how Sam initially claims that sharks are mostly non-aggressive, yet at the end they show up to conveniently eat all the bad guys. Thereís also a chase scene where the cars go in reverse through an alley, and a dramatic harpoon gun fight underwater. None of this would ever happen in real life. It has a giddy sense of fun on screen though.

Director John Stockwell also made Blue Crush and he obviously knows his way around underwater sequences. Staging action on Ė or under Ė the water can be difficult; continuity is often a problem, making things confusing for the audience. Stockwell makes all of the underwater scenes easy to follow, and he captures the paranoia that comes with trying to hold your breath for too long.

The studio clearly knows that Paul Walker and Jessica Alba are the selling points of Into the Blue.
Every review of Into the Blue will probably mention the ďeye candyĒ factor. I wouldnít bring it up at all except for the fact that Sony is explicitly selling the film on that basis. (All those ads featuring Jessica Alba in a bikini and a shirtless Paul Walker are designed to draw moviegoers.) Letís be honest: this is sometimes a part of why we go to the movies. Walker and Alba are attractive and also likeable. Itís totally understandable that fans would buy a ticket just to ogle these sexy stars. Into the Blue certainly delivers on that count.

Although it works in as a pleasantly mindless thriller, the film never reaches its full potential because it canít decide what it is ultimately going to be about. At first, it seems like it will be one of those moral dilemma stories (like A Simple Plan) in which the characters have to decide what to do with enormous cocaine stash they accidentally find. Then it seems like itís going to be a National Treasure-style adventure with the characters looking for a historic ship. Finally, it settles into something resembling a revenge movie, with the coke dealers returning for their stash and the heroes fighting for their lives. Into the Blue feels like itís telling three stories when it should have just told one.

Ultimately, this flaw is enough to keep Into the Blue from being anything other than a passable time-killer. The best movies with similar plots crackle with tension (again, I point to A Simple Plan). This one looks great and has its fair share of enjoyable moments, but it is not anything to get overly enthusiastic about. I had some fun with it, and you might too, but neither of us is likely to remember much about it a month from now.

( 1/2 out of four)

Into the Blue is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence, drug material, some sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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