Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Abyss-mal Cinema: DEEP GOLD (2011)

Filipino movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s are a special breed of cool. The Philippines have always been a cross cultural nation and just like their food, their movies are a combination of a variety of different influences. Much like I felt the jones to see what modern Turkish genre cinema was doing with DRAGON TRAP (2010), I decided to dig deep for some modern Filipino gold. Or pyrite, as the case may be.

If you thought THE EVIL BELOW (1989) was late in the game for a knock-off Peter Benchley’s THE DEEP (1977), this is so late that I suspect that they were thinking they could simply get away with heisting the plot. A pair of sisters, Amy and Jess (Bebe Pham and Jaymee Ong), are on vacation with their boyfriends on their late father’s yacht on the island of Cebu. After bouncing a check to the waterfront hotelkeeper, Mr. Chang (who is Chinese, therefore very loud and cash obsessed), locks up the yacht until he gets paid. Even worse, Amy’s boyfriend Tony (Jack Prinya) is suddenly called by the air force to fly a top secret mission. A massive cache of gold bars were found in the jungles of a Filipino island and the military is going to send it back to Manila where it belongs.

Naturally, while the air tower controllers are stuffing their faces with Jollybee hamburgers (hmmm… how did this movie get financed?), things take a nasty turn in the air over San Vincente. After one of the pilots leaves the cockpit, someone in a pilot uniform (we don’t know who) gives the co-pilot an injection of something (what it is, we aren’t told). Was it Tony or was it someone dressed as Tony? Or someone completely different? This question might possibly be answered later in the film. The plane crashes into the water and sinks like a... uhh, a plane that is filled with gold bars. The plot thickens to the viscosity of, well, sea water.

Things look so different from the air

The military decides that this top secret mission’s utter failure should be kept top secret, so their first order of business is to go out to the hotel and accuse Amy of being in on a plot to steal all the gold due to her financial issues. See, in spite of owning a yacht so large it could hold Shia LaBeouf’s head, the sisters are strapped for cash. I guess the air force doesn’t pay much in the Philippines. Fortunately, a totally random white dude named Frank who apparently is friends with the sisters shows up at a bar to give them enough money to persuade Mr. Chang to give them their boat back so that they can go look for Tony. As we all know, the military can’t possibly find a crashed airplane, that is a job for an untrained civilian! To get some inside info Amy hits up John (random white guy #2) who can’t tell her anything because it’s top secret. He does prove useful by chasing down a black van who kidnap Amy and gives her some sage advice before dying from a bullet wound: “there is going to be more trouble”. Uhhh, yeah, thanks John. You’ve been a great help.

Also we have a DJ that works out of a lighthouse named Lulu (Laury Prudent) not Stevie Wayne, who saw the plane go down in San Vincinte and knows that the whole thing is some sort of military cover-up. While she can’t help with any details or even depth charts (because she ain’t no “lie-berry”), she can whip up a fully functional ocean sonar rig complete with instrument panel out of spare parts she has lying around the lighthouse! Ummm, if she's so electronically adept, what in christ's name is she doing as a DJ in a lighthouse? After Amy finds that the depth charts seem to be a little screwy, the older male librarian tells her a secret because he thinks she’s hot: The maps are wrong. Yep, in dubya dubya eye eye, the maps were falsified to keep the Japanese from discovering that one of their ships sank in the area. Uhhh, what? For no apparent reason the maps were never corrected. It could happen! Who knew that depth charts could be as complicated as deciphering the staff of Ra?

After meeting up with a pair of globe-hopping journalists Benny (writer-producer-director Michael Gleissner) and Claire (Amelia Jackson-Gray), they pitch a yarn about how this would make a fantastic story for their magazine. The girls see absolutely nothing suspicious about this and don't even ask for some sort of identification. We are looking for a massive stash of gold, who would want invite themselves on to the boat with less than savory intentions? Yep, you can see this plot point coming like a whale carcass at twenty paces. As if that weren’t enough, there is also a German boat tailing them. They must be up to no good! I mean they are German, right? The Germans while appearing to be partying (by themselves) are actually spying on them. Why? Hell if I know and hell if I'm going to find out.

At this point the movie finally kicks into gear with some reasonably well staged action scenes – one in which Amy (dressed like an extra from 1984s ANGEL) is trying to dodge a group of bad guys (who we know are bad because they dress in black and have stylish facial hair) in the library. As she tries to escape them on a second story balcony, they are trying to shove book cases over on top of her while she dodges out of the way in the nick of time. It may not sound like much, it sure ain't the domino sequence from POLICE STORY 2 (1988), but one takes what one can get in this kind of outing.

Feeling the need to provide some sort of back story explaining how these skinflint babes are in possession of a rather large boat, we get a flashback establishing that the ship was left to the sisters by their father who was an oceanographer. After coming up from a dive, one of the eight year old sisters accidentally kicks Dad’s camera into the sea. Dad naturally flips out and dives in after it even though he has no air left in his aqualung and is never to be seen again. Can you feel Gleissner tugging at your heart strings? No? That's not surprising because it is the most laughable tragedy since the Santa-stuck-in-the-chimney story in GREMLINS (1984). The problem with this, of course, is that if I were a cynical man, I’d say they killed pops to take his boat.

If you want to see if you can find a copy of this movie and watch it spoiler free, skip the next paragraph.

It’s not long before they discover that Benny and Claire are up to no good with Claire cutting Amy’s hose and attempting to lock her in the sunken plane with the gold and a bomb. I guess the bloom is off the vine. At the same time top side, Jess has discovered via her onboard fax machine (what yacht doesn’t have one?) that Benny is not in fact a journalist at all. What is he? Well, we never find that out, but he is a bad man with a gun… and a lighter that seems to have a mind of its own. After dousing the girls with gasoline he finds his Zippo doesn’t work so he must run around the boat trying to find matches (no, really). After spotting his henchman lighting a cigarette with a disposable Bic lighter, Benny is back in business, except that when he goes to set the girls on fire he’s back to using his Zippo, which now miraculously works. This is explained by the fact that in the credits there is no listing for “Continuity”. And who were the lurking Germans anyway? We never find out because they are killed as soon as Amy tries to take refuge on their boat in a scene where they discover the gold is actually fake! Wait, so where did the real gold go? Apparently Gleissner is shit out of answers, so I guess we’ll just have to wait for the sequel. Seriously we are never told what actually happened. I'm guessing that one of the bad guy's henchmen injected the pilots making the plane crash, but then why didn't he just sail out to where the plane crashed instead of trying to pretend to be a journalist so he could ride with these girls who are trying to find it? Was the henchman also killed in the crash? You'd think he would have some sort of escape plan. Maybe the Military took the gold and set up the plane as a decoy? If so, why send soldiers all over the country harassing people about it? WTF Mike?

How you know this was shot in the Philippines

It doesn't take a marine scientist to see this movie as utterly and completely idiotic. It is cheaply made, doesn’t follow any sort of recognizable logic and the acting is slightly sub-porn parody. On the other hand, it is somehow remarkably entertaining in spite of, or because of, this blundering attempt at an aquatic thriller. I guess you’d have to watch it in the right frame of mind, but it reminds me a lot of films made in the ‘70s and ‘80s in as that it takes itself seriously. These folks are genuinely trying to make a seaborne action-thriller. There is no winking and mugging at the camera, nobody thinks that they are too cool to be in this stupid movie and there is enough random details and subplots to keep the film moving at a quick sprint. Ineptitude is best served straight, no chaser and Gleissner does his best to create a web of intrigue but manages to get himself completely tangled in it to the point where he must come up with incredibly absurd machinations to keep his plot moving. Gleissner is a 12 year veteran TV producer in the Phillipines and it’s pretty obvious this is his attempt to break into feature filmmaking. Mostly known for producing series’ involving fashion, here he has Pham gussied up in the most inappropriately provocative attire and has the sisters looped by what sound like the kind of teen girls that go into Starbucks in their pajamas. Maybe not the greatest 90 minutes of my life, but it still managed to keep me mildly entertained.

[Edit: George White is the sharpest pencil in the drawer it seems as he correctly pointed out that this is more of a rip-off of INTO THE BLUE (2005), which itself was a very late in the game rip-off of THE DEEP (1977). I like to pretend that Jessica Alba and Paul Walker do not actually make movies and completely forgot that the film existed. Thanks go out to George for reminding me that they do and it does.]

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