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'Submerged' thriller sinks under weight of trying too hard

The thriller "Submerged" opens with a heck of a hook: An airtight stretch limousine sinks into a lake, and half a dozen people panic as they realize they're going to run out of oxygen.

Although "Submerged" sets up as a genre piece about desperate folks trapped in a confined space, the car scenes only constitute about a third of the film — and even those mostly consist of young actors yelling at each other.

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Jonathan Bennett stars as Matt, the driver and bodyguard for a ruthless local billionaire (played by Tim Daly) and his sheltered daughter, Jessie (Talulah Riley). Via frequent flashbacks, director Steven C. Miller and screenwriter Scott Milam establish the danger Jessie faces from her dad's enemies — a few of whom run Matt's vehicle off the road during a kidnapping attempt.

The jumbled chronology is the movie's biggest misstep. The writer and director don't seem to trust their own premise, jumping around in time to fill in the dull details of why the limo's in the drink.

In the back story, Bennett and company flesh out the hero's complicated personal life, which involves a drug-dealing brother and a forbidden romance. Nearly all of this is superfluous.

Miller attempts some clever visual transitions between past and present, while Milam throws in a few late plot twists, more silly than surprising. Even the movie's brighter spots are undermined by ineptly staged action sequences, flatly functional dialogue and stock characters. Ultimately, "Submerged" is all wet.

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"Submerged"

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.

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