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MOVIE REVIEW : ‘The Big Blue’ Sinks Deep Into Pointlessness

Times Staff Writer

Luc Besson’s “The Big Blue” (citywide) is such a total disaster that it would have been an act of kindness for all concerned to have never released it. Had you not seen Besson’s taut, offbeat French film “Subway” with Christopher Lambert and Isabelle Adjani, and had you never seen Rosanna Arquette on the screen before, you would never believe, on the basis of “The Big Blue,” that she or Besson had a future in films.

It’s an instance of a talented film maker losing his bearings on a grand scale and being tripped up by the language barrier in the process.

At heart, “The Big Blue” is a simple, innocuous story about a lifelong rivalry between two men who dive for depth records and an expression of a profound love of the sea. But Besson has seen fit to film it on the Riviera, in Sicily, Corsica, Paris, New York, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, Greece, Peru and the Alps.

These photogenic locales, suitable for a James Bond adventure, overwhelm Besson and Robert Garland’s sketchy, incoherent script to the extent that the film is more travelogue than the romantic fable it strives to be with such miscalculated grandiosity.

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When we meet Arquette’s Joanna, a kooky Manhattan insurance investigator, she’s arriving at the top of a snowy Peruvian mountain wearing gold high heels for no apparent reason except to make her look foolish. (Don’t ask what’s taken her there.) She’s quickly mesmerized by a young man named Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr), who’s attempting to discover how deeply he can dive into an ice-covered lake.

After wandering through a thicket of pointless, protracted plot machinations, “The Big Blue” at last finds Jacques caught up in an increasingly dangerous diving competition with his old friend Enzo (Jean Reno).

Meanwhile, Joanna is forced to realize that she has fallen in love with a man who seemingly would rather kiss a dolphin than a girl and who is more at home in the water than on land.

The talented Arquette has been given no real character to play, which means we’re treated to the unhappy spectacle of watching her flail around like a trapped bird, striving for some kind of eccentric impression in the absence of any other kind of definition.

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Barr has a sleek, ethereal presence that might have been effective in less pretentious circumstances, and Reno is stuck playing a crude, stereotyped Italian womanizer. None of these people come alive--even though Jacques and Enzo are based on actual people.

Carlo Varini’s photography is dazzlingly beautiful, but “The Big Blue” is more a series of pretty pictures than striking images.

There’s no question that the film is more effective in its shimmering, otherworldly underwater sequences, but they’re not enough to overcome a hopeless script. The film has reportedly been trimmed by 25 minutes since its opening-night screening at Cannes, and it has been given a new Bill Conti score, characterized by the kind of flourishes that only underline the film’s self-importance.

Be prepared to want to come up for air only minutes into “The Big Blue” (rated PG for some steamy lovemaking).

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