Hollywood is a land of wish fulfillment and never is that more true than in films like “Dead in the Water.” This dim-witted quasi-thriller presents us with three vain, petty characters who deserve to die horribly … and then they die! Horribly! Say what you will about the quality of the film (it’s poopy), at least it gives the people what they want.
This is the story of a spoiled rich American girl named Gloria (Dominique Swain) who lives with her father in Brazil, where he’s a banker/businessman/robber baron. Gloria’s fraternity-scented boyfriend, Danny (Scott Bairstow), has been here the last few months, learning the business and being a tool, and the two of them are taking the yacht out today so they can bicker and have sex on the open water, away from humanity.
They are being joined on this excursion by Jeff (Henry Thomas, formerly known as Elliott from “E.T.”), their wimpy third-wheel friend whose secret love for Gloria is pitifully un-secret. In addition, Gloria’s father has asked her to take his Brazilian business partner’s son, Marcos (Sebastian DeVicente), along for the ride. Marcos doesn’t speak English well; nobody else has bothered to learn much Portuguese while living in Brazil; Danny and Gloria are having relationship problems because they’re both self-absorbed pinheads; Jeff is their pathetic go-between desperately hoping for attention from Gloria that he’s never going to get. All the elements are in place for this to be the most unpleasant boat trip since “Amistad.”
Here is what we learn out on the water. Gloria and Danny have been dating for four years — “two years on, two years off,” according to Gloria, which sounds to me like they’ve been dating for two years, but whatever. She’s frustrated that Danny won’t commit to her. She expresses her frustration by performing a sex act on him. Danny cruelly teases Jeff, who is his best friend, about his crush on Gloria. Jeff cattily reminds Danny, who is his best friend, about the time Danny embarrassed himself on a business trip in Hong Kong. Danny, Jeff, and Gloria laugh about their Rich People problems and make fun of Marcos.
Marcos seems cool.
While Danny and Jeff are swimming near the anchored yacht, Gloria chats flirtatiously with Marcos, toying with him as she describes her troubled relationship with Danny. She says Danny has to become a successful financier or he won’t be able to support her expensive tastes. “I’m prime real estate, and I will not be devalued!” she says, adding casually, “You must think I’m so shallow.” Such a description would be an insult to shallow things, but Marcos is too polite and does not speak enough English to mention it.
Gloria then instigates a make-out session with Marcos, which Danny and Jeff return just in time to witness. Lucky for her, Gloria is an awful person with the resourcefulness to pretend Marcos’ advances were unwelcome, leading Danny to do the appropriate grown-up manly thing and push Marcos overboard. Then he fires up the engine and drives away, leaving Marcos clinging to a life preserver. Jeff and Gloria tell him to quit being a brat; Danny says he’ll just putter around for a few minutes to give Marcos a scare, then come back and retrieve him. But by the time they return, Marcos is gone. Looks like he drowned. Whoops!
If it was grueling to watch these three insufferable clowns whine like rejected “Real World” cast members when nothing bad was happening, you can imagine what kind of shrill, shouty drama ensues now that they’ve killed a guy. First, there’s a lot arguing over whose fault it is. It’s entirely Danny’s fault — in the sense that all of the relevant actions were performed exclusively by him — but he wants Jeff and Gloria to share the blame because they failed to stop him. “That seems fair,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The arguing is followed by a great deal of sitting around on the yacht and moping. Whatever people who don’t have souls do instead of soul-searching, that’s what they do. If they tell the truth about Marcos’ death when they get back to shore, Danny’s life will be ruined and Gloria won’t have any reason to be his girlfriend anymore. But if they say Marcos’ death was accidental, his father will be resentful and cancel his business affairs with Gloria’s dad, which will make Gloria’s family poor, which will leave Danny with no reason to stay with her. Jeff’s priority is to somehow manipulate the situation until it results in Gloria loving him.
Racked with guilt, Danny ties the boat anchor to his leg and throws himself overboard, a perfectly reasonable course of action that Jeff stupidly thwarts by rescuing him. (Yeah, Jeff! Maybe she’ll love you if you save her boyfriend’s life!) Turns out Danny did something similar after the professional screw-up in Hong Kong. Attempting suicide is apparently just what Danny does when he makes a huge mistake, which is apparently often. There could probably be a web series called “The Clumsy Suicide Attempts of Danny the Hothead.”
Realizing his tactical error, Jeff seeks to rectify it by smashing Danny in the head with a fire extinguisher while he sleeps below decks. As the old saying goes, “If at first you rashly save an enemy from drowning, smash, smash again.” Tragically for stupid Jeff, Danny wakes up just in time, grabs a conveniently located knife, and stabs him in the gut. Gloria comes down to see what all the ruckus is and finishes the job by smothering Jeff with a pillow, without any clear motive beyond her general bitchiness.
Then she kisses him. I note that this means she has now kissed all three men in the film, including one of their freshly slain corpses.
BUT WAIT! Then Jeff isn’t dead after all (there is a lot of that in this movie), and he wakes up to tell Danny how his precious girlfriend smothered him. Nobody likes a snitch, Jeff. But it doesn’t matter, because Gloria puts a signal flare in the yacht’s gas tank, jumps overboard, and watches as Danny starts the engine and the boat goes KABLOOEY. Having failed to grab a life preserver or to think her cunning plan all the way through, Gloria drowns ignominiously.
An epilogue reveals that Marcos is fine, by the way. He faked his death to get back at his mean hosts, and now he’s chilling poolside with a babe in a bikini. Where? How? Who? What? Don’t ask questions. Just enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that three-fourths of the film’s wretched characters died appropriately. That’s a much better percentage than we got in, say, “The Expendables.”