On a sparsely populated island off the coast of Maine, three people--two men and a woman--are playing a game of cat and mouse. Or, more accurately, a game of life and death.
George (Harvey Keitel) is a middle-aged judge, Nathalie (Cameron Diaz) is his young wife, and Lance (Craig Sheffer) is her childhood friend, an artist who doubles as the island’s caretaker. He lives next door.
For a brief time in Jim Wilson’s “Head Above Water,” there is a third man, Kent (Billy Zane), Nathalie’s ex-lover. But he dies early in the film, leaving behind a naked body that sends George into a jealous rage and leaves us wondering which is the most dangerous character--the corpse, the judge, his wife or their neighbor?
If this black comedy sounds familiar, you may have caught it on HBO, where it aired earlier in the year. It’s not unusual these days for a particularly engrossing cable film to take a theatrical second breath, but “Head Above Water” is not a particularly engrossing movie. Its island setting is gorgeous, better served for sure on the big screen. But the story is as slight as an episode of “Tales From the Crypt,” another HBO presentation.
These kind of keep-the-audience-guessing whodunits depend on the dialogue and the actors’ chemistry, and “Head Above Water” fails both tests. Keitel is badly miscast as the comically jealous husband; Sheffer, the brooding, older son in Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It,” doesn’t begin to convey the mystery implied by Lance; and Diaz, while clearly talented at light comedy, is stuck in the middle, sputtering in confusion over which is the better man.
By the time “Head Above Water” reaches its “Perils of Pauline” ending, it’s a question of interest only to Nathalie. If you have to spend time with a corpse at the beach, this is better than “Weekend at Bernie’s.” But it’s a near thing.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for thematic elements and some moments of strong violence. Times guidelines: profanity, violence.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
‘Head Above Water’
Harvey Keitel: George
Cameron Diaz: Nathalie
Craig Sheffer: Lance
Billy Zane: Kent
A TIG Productions/Majestic Films production, released by Fine Line Features. Director Jim Wilson. Producers Jim Wilson, John M. Jacobsen. Screenplay by Theresa Marie, based on a screenplay by Geir Eriksen, Eirik Ildahl. Cinematographer Richard Bowen. Editor Michael R. Miller. Costumes Colleen Atwood. Music Christopher Young. Production design Jeffrey Beecroft. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
* Playing exclusively at AMC Cecchi Gori Fine Arts, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 652-1330; State Theatre, 770 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (818) 792-3540.