Head Above Water

on June 25, 1997 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   From the school of film noir, in which people are not what they seem and nefarious machinations abound, comes "Head Above Water," a sometimes original but largely ineffective thriller. Nathalie (Cameron Diaz), an ex-drug addict, is vacationing in Maine with her husband George (Harvey Keitel), the judge who gave her a reduced sentence when she was in his courtroom on a misdemeanor. Also around is handyman Lance (Craig Sheffer), a childhood friend of Nathalie's who's always had a crush on her. Then another old friend, Kent ("The Phantom's" Billy Zane), arrives to make a play for Nathalie when Lance and George are off fishing--but Kent soon winds up dead on her bed. Whodunnit?
   Obviously, "Head Above Water" is trying to match the success of such stellar films as "Blood Simple," "The Usual Suspects" and "Bound." But the acting, which needs to be razor-sharp in such a film, is substandard. Nathalie is mainly a reactive character; though Diaz is onscreen more than in "My Best Friend's Wedding," she has less to do. Sheffer, the weak link in "Bliss," turns in another stonefaced performance. As the seemingly meek George, Keitel is atypically bland. To its detriment, the film tries too hard to shoehorn these characters into complex situations, which fails to work because the people are so dull; filmgoers are unlikely to want to follow them up and down dark and contorted narrative alleys.
   To their credit, director/producer Jim Wilson and screenwriter Theresa Marie don't telegraph their plot twists too often--there are some genuine surprises here--and they keep the story's contrivances to a minimum (except for everyone's penchant for carrying out their evil deeds in broad daylight). But the weak characterizations and performances undo any suspense the film might have had.    Starring Cameron Diaz, Harvey Keitel and Craig Sheffer. Directed by Jim Wilson. Written by Theresa Marie. Produced by Jim Wilson and John M. Jacobsen. A Fine Line release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some moments of strong violence. Running time: 92 min.
Tags: Cameron Diaz, Harvey Keitel, Craig Sheffer, Directed by Jim Wilson, Written by Theresa Marie, Produced by Jim Wilson, John M. Jacobsen, A Fine Line release, Drama, dull, contorted, violence, machinations

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