Submerged (2005)

Submerged

Directed by Anthony Hickox

Tagline: “Under water, under cover.”

Run Time: 94 min

Review by Sean Ledden


Like its doughy, stone-faced hero, Submerged is tough. Brutal. Ruthless. It wastes no time before starting to beat the crap out of the viewer with a headache inducing jackhammer montage similar to the one used to torture Malcolm MacDowell’s goon in “A Clockwork Orange.” All the while some babe (all of the women in this movie are babes – surprise!) talks about controlling your mind. Then it’s off to some large dam where a delightfully tacky model of an unmanned reconnaissance plane snaps pictures of a bunch of hysterical bad guys. At the same time a grim-faced power blonde with the U.S. State Department talks, grimly, of tracking down a secret base. This is kind of boring. Thankfully the secret service guys in the room with her go nuts and shoot everybody in the head. There’s lots of blood. Like I said at the start: this movie means business.

It doesn’t even waste time figuring out what happened. We know it’s mind control, and so do the characters in the movie, as we see in another U.S. government briefing scene. They even know who’s doing it! How did they figure this out? The movie doesn’t deign to tell us. It doesn’t have time, because we have to catch up with a bunch of buff commandoes riding towards Drop Point Bravo, “Coast of Uruguay,” in a helicopter. As they fly to destroy the bad guy place under the dam – I guess – the leader, a hot Aussie guy, talks about how he misses his kid (awwwww), and how he has a “shitty feeling” about the mission. So guess what, they drop into a fiendish ambush involving counter-commandoes, mind-control, and a suicide-bomber goat herd. This scene goes on and on and on as the leader, rendered impotent by mind-control, loses his grip and lets the suicide-bomber goat herd get too close before one of his men shoots & blows her up. Guts splatter all over the place, but at least it’s not in slow motion. Then the counter-commandoes open fire and several good guys die visually exciting deaths before the leader snaps to and orders everyone to surrender. The music becomes ponderous and mournful over this, but there is a bright spot: all the goats remain unharmed – thank you for asking.

Then we’re off again – now to the Dr. Mind Control’s evil laboratory. Unsurprisingly, he’s a leering, owl-eyed example of evil incarnate. One who bears a striking resemblance to Under Dog’s nemesis Simon Bar Sinister! We join him as he’s washing the brain of one of the captured commandoes – pretty much the same way Malcolm MacDowell’s brutal thug was re-conditioned way back in 1972’s A Clockwork Orange. That is, he’s subjected, with pinned open eyes, to a flood of intensely irritating subliminal images – the ones in this movie seem to have been lifted from an MTV goth-rock video.

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Then it’s off to the aircraft carrier USS Clinton where, finally, our hero makes his heavy footed entrance in one of those hopelessly corny slow-mo “walking tough” sequences pioneered by Michael Bay. But what’s this? He’s in the chains of a prisoner! He was thrown in the stockade it seems. Why? Don’t know, because the movie doesn’t say. But one thing I do know. Despite the fact that the carrier interiors are underlit and Steven is dressed in dark, baggy clothing, it’s easy to see that those stockades were well stocked with cakes, cookies, pies and ice-cream. (America’s military is famous for the indulgent way it treats its prisoners!)

Then we get some smart-ass tough guy talk as Steven squares off with a frowny-faced officer who loves the cakes, cookies, pies, and ice-cream even more than he does! Although right now he looks kind of constipated. No doubt because of Steven’s infuriating wise-ass manner and surprisingly soft, high-pitched voice. Choking down his disgust, Officer Frowny-Face offers Steven and his “crew” a full pardon if they go on a top-secret mission to assassinate Dr. Mind Control. Steven replies, rather surprisingly, that he doesn’t do things like that. Not to worry. 10 seconds later he changes his mind and takes the pardon if it comes with $100,000 for him and each of his crew members. This display of ethics over with, we learn that Agent Fletcher is also coming along “for the ride.”(He’s played by William Hope. He also played the incompetent Marine Lieutenant in Aliens who screwed the pooch for Ripley & Co. Based on this bit of casting, and because Agent Fletcher is an authority figure, I’m going to make a bold prediction here. Agent Fletcher nearly gets everyone killed by being either incompetent or a double agent.) And now we get some sparkling military wit from Agent Fletcher:

“I’m just tagging along to make sure you get good coffee, and a change of clothes.”

The dialogue in this movie is almost as painful as the subliminal torture sequences. And there’s plenty more to be had when we meet Steven’s “crew.” It’s in another dimly lit room of the ship, and Steven addresses a surly bunch of constipated-looking touch guys. Jumpy computer screen graphics tell us about some of them – like “O’Hearn” whose “skills” include “engineer” and “dynamic entry.” OK, let’s just think about that for a moment. Anyway, they’re not happy because the last time they followed Steven they all ended up in jail. But he rallies them to the cause, in his slightly effeminate drawl, with this stirring speech:

“It’s easy, you know. You can come with me. We do it right, we free. Or you can stay in jail and get romantic with your boyfriend.”

That does the trick, and they come on board. More heavy metal music. More manly slo-mo striding down corridors. (Auuuugggghhhh!!!!!!) Then we get our black female team member, Dr. Susan Chapel, with the “Psychological Unit.” She’s gorgeous, of course. And thank goodness it’s not an all-male party. Because we all know what that could lead to! As if to underscore this point she asks Steven’s tough Number 2 Bloke (he’s English), “What’s in the bag?” He replies, “Apart from me condoms. Probably enough explosives to blow that dam to Kingdom Come.” Oh my aching sides!

Then it’s off to blow that dam – the one housing the secret lab – to Kingdom Come. And I have to thank the movie at this point, because it quickly confirms my prediction that Agent Fletcher is no good. For once he scrambles out of the helicopter at the drop point a puffy-faced Steven has the bird lift off again – to the delight of the other soldiers. Why do they hate him? Who knows, but Steven doesn’t give a shit about him, and neither do they. Only Dr. Chapel is aghast. But she’s just a girl from the “Psychological Unit” so what does she know. For of course Agent Fletcher really is a double agent. How did Steven know? The movie doesn’t waste time on this point, because it has a date with tough commando babe number two. It’s a hilarious rip-off of the wonderful scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Marian out drinks some guy who looks like a yak. Only here the commando babe, who looks like a Playboy pinup, wins an arm wrestling match with some long-haired Neanderthal who out weights her by 100 pounds or so. I mean, I’m a feminist, but ye Gods! While this mighty contest is going on they are surrounded by a bunch of hooting, howling cretins who are either supposed to be South American good’ol boys, or the stone-age survivors of World War III.

As the Playboy pinup races to meet Steven and his team at the new drop point, we pause, very briefly, for some hard to follow exposition with Officer Frowny Face back on the aircraft carrier. He’s pissed off at the new drop point, but defends Steven because it turns out he prevented “another 9/11” out on the Mediterranean Sea. By disobeying orders, of course. And then the U.N. got involved and raised some political bullshit fuss, and well, Steven and crew landed in jail. (Gee, if only Steven had been on the East Coast – then he’d have prevented the U.N. from letting 9/11 happen!!!)

But there’s no time to dwell on past injustices, for as our playboy pinup leans against a muscle truck and ogles the guys as they stride in manly slo-mo (Auuuggghhhh!!!) from the helicopter, we get our second glimpse of Dr. Mind-Control. He quickly double-crosses, then murders his hysterical South American sleaze bag patron. The only mystery is why he’s doing all of this, but who cares, it’s almost time for the next action set-piece. It’s a loooonnnnnnggggg and very involved assault on the secret headquarters by Steve and his gang. It’s night, and camouflaged men sneak around oil barrels, past guarded submarines, and down concrete walls. They sight bad guys in the scopes of their deadly hi-tech weaponry before killing them in a variety of visually exciting ways. This includes the Playboy pinup crushing a guard’s neck with her muscular (?) thighs. The bad guys fight back with a small army and a tank, but to no avail. (By the way – almost all of this ruckus is done by the team, with Steven himself either off-stage, or “guiding” the action by standing still and scowling past the camera.)

Once in the secret headquarters, they find that Dr. Mind-Control has flown the coop, leaving behind several broken victims swinging forlornly in S&M cages. Freeing the victims, Steve & his crew blow up Dr. Mind-Control’s abandoned HQ – and the dam. This no doubt leads to a tremendous loss of life in the surrounding civilian population – but fortunately Steve & his crew aren’t weighted down by such bullshit political considerations. They’ve got a job to do. And that includes stealing the submarine. Don’t ask me why. But it’s interesting to note that the sub isn’t trashed by the flood released when the dam blows up. It’s magical realism – Hollywood style!

So finally the movie, along with Steve & his crew, is Submerged – in a dark, dank, claustrophobic submarine. But this dreary atmosphere is soon enlivened by a cat fight, I mean face-off, between Dr. Chapel and the Playboy pinup. Seems the pinup is enraged that girly girl Chapel hasn’t killed anybody yet. So, breasts heaving with testosterone, she throws herself into a hot, tight, sweaty martial arts show down with the team’s psychologist. You might be surprised to learn that this doesn’t end in a lesbian sex scene – and thus to a 3-way with you know who. But action movies like this have always been shy around real sex – so it doesn’t happen. Let us bow our heads in a moment of profound thanks.

Several moments of ersatz tension later the brain-washed victims – all members of the first doomed commando team, attempt to take over and sink the submarine. Amid all the squalid action we finally get a Steven Seagal martial arts battle. Sort of. It’s brief, and it’s all done with editing and camera angles. In it, Steven easily dispatches his younger, fitter, more limber and athletic opponent. Mostly by standing in poorly lit corners and scowling. He does, however, get some choice dialogue and shouts, in a rather listless manner, “Cocksucker, motherfucker!” Next he kills the remaining brain-washed commandos by spraying them with machine gun fire. Happily, he doesn’t hit the members of his own crew who are standing all around the bad guys. Then everyone abandons ship because Officer Frowny Face, panicked that some brain-washed commandos might escape, blows up the sub with a missile attack. That’s Standard Operating Procedure – I guess.

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The Many Moods of Steven Seagal

Then it’s off to the shiny corporate evil of the Kelin Dyle Centre, somewhere else in Uruguay, I guess. Dr. Mind-Control pouts menacingly at Agent Fletcher about the money he’s owed, but Fletcher brushes him off, saying it’s up to his superiors. But before we get any further he’s told that Steven and his surviving crew members have landed somewhere nearby. With Dr. Mind-Control smirking at his elbow he plans an ambush.

This is to take place at an outdoor protest rally that’s been colored corrected in post production to look very, very orange. I think this is meant to express the heat of the tropics and the passion of the demonstrators, but it rather suggests that the sun will go supernova at any moment. And it’s contrasted with scenes in Dr. Mind-Control’s new lab – which have been color corrected to look very, very blue. You know, because the lab is so very, very cold, and very, very evil. It’s all very, very subtle.

While in the lab we learn that the evil Kelin Dyle Corporation has kidnapped the young fiancé of the country’s president. And she’s not the only one being abused, as there are plenty of others who are strapped to seats in little concrete and glass cubicles. Stacked on top of each other they bring to mind a sort of Hollywood Squares from hell. (Note From The Future – later in the movie Agent Fletcher refers to the lab as the Hollywood Squares. I feel so validated!) As Dr. Mind-Control gets to work on the fiancé, humming an evil tune, the evil Fletcher begins plotting with his evil corporate boss to get rid of the evil scientist. Seems Dr. Mind-Control isn’t good at taking orders. Boy, Fletcher sure is evil! But the joke’s on him, because as soon as he leaves Dr. Mind-Control drugs and disables his sleazoid minion – taking the lab over in earnest. (Interestingly, Dr. Mind-Control, who has money problems, has somehow managed to instantly gain the unquestioning loyalty of his new lab’s corporate funded staff. Right.)

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Both Simon Bar Sinister and Dr. Mind Control Enjoy Their Work.

Inter-cut with all of the evil shenanigans at the lab is a lot of unexplained violence between anonymous protestors and faceless cops at the phosphorescently orange rally. (It’s always something when you go down south of the border.) Stuck in the middle, in their array of shiny new taxis and freshly laundered civilian clothes, is Steven & Co. Glowering out at the scene, Steven grows profound, “You can bet your life that somebody close to us is orchestrating this whole thing.” Who? God? Nope, for he continues, “And I’m just willing to bet that some of (Dr. Mind-Control’s) men are waiting for us somewhere around this plaza.” This may sound like the psychotic paranoia of a street crazy, but it isn’t. It’s the clear-eyed shrewdness of an invulnerable action star. An invulnerable action star who’s pissed. At least I think he’s supposed to be pissed. It’s hard to tell because Seagal’s wooden delivery never changes throughout the entire movie. At any rate he mumbles “I say we go for them.” And then “If you want to catch some catfish, you have to have some bait.” before stepping out of the car. Like, wow.

And so begins another loooonnngggg, involved and sometimes bizarre action sequence. This one involving a brain washed sniper. Steven’s Number 2 Bloke manages to sneak up on him, but rather than just shoot him, he lays down his gun, sneaks up behind him, then hisses in his ear, “Do you think I’m here to play fucking chess?” This is quickly followed by a brutal, rage filled fight where each of the many, many kicks and punches land with a deafening crunch. Bloody, defeated, and lying on the floor, the sniper tells Number 2, who’s standing over him with a gun in his hand, to “End this.” Hesitating briefly, Number 2 shoots him dead. What the hell!? Why did Number 2 risk his comrades’ lives by not shooting the assassin at the start? If it was scruples that stayed his hand from shooting, why did he beat the living tar out of the guy with such vengeful glee? The whole thing is a roiling mess of neurotic contradictions.

As Number 2 works out his issues with the (good looking) assassin, Steven has not been idle. He’s been reading an English language newspaper, where he notes that a gala performance of Tosca will be attended by the President and his fiancé that evening. (If you’ve seen Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, you’ll know what’s coming.) He also notices when Dr. Chapel, wondering around the square like an idiot, is arrested by the police. Oh well. I guess that’s what a college education does for ya! (By the way, how do the police know who she is?)

A rare quiet moment ensues as Steven and his few remaining crew members plot their next move in an empty café that’s color-corrected a pukey kind of greenish orange. They’re joined by another young and super-hot woman operative. This one with an Aussie accent. (Operatives for what, by the way? Masturbation fantasies, I guess. In one way or another this entire movie is a masturbation fantasy.) And though Steven learns that evil double agent Fletcher has already met the new ambassador, he plans to meet the new guy anyway. It’s still unexplained how Steven ever figured out that Fletcher is a bad guy, by the way.

Before he gets a chance to do that, the new guy drops in on Dr. Chapel, who is in custody. She tries to warn him about Fletcher, but oh no! He’s in league with Fletcher, who proceeds to first lecture her on how an undefined “we” do business “down here.” Then to threaten her if she doesn’t cooperate.

But all is not lost, for Steven shrewdly calls Dr. Mind-Control on the dead sniper’s cell phone. Dr. Mind-Control called that phone himself earlier, but now he intuits it’s a trap, only it’s too late. A techie on Officer Frowny Face’s aircraft carrier has traced the call. Good work! And it’s all so believable. And as the techie and the Officer babble on about signals they discover that it goes to an area kept “off the grid” by agent Fletcher. Ah ha!

More manly slo-mo walking (As Steven himself would say, "Jesus Fucking Christ!") as Steven, dressed in slimming black as usual, strides into the U.S. Embassy. Seemingly not knowing that the ambassador’s a stooge, he blurts out the bad news about Fletcher, then asks to replace the ambassador at the opera. Back in the evil laboratory there’s more tedious betrayal, and Fletcher himself becomes a hostage, along with Dr. Chapel.

Then it’s off to the opera, only Number 2 Bloke hasn’t dressed for the occasion. “In my book only queers and penguins go to watch the fucking opera. If you need to fucking dress up as a penguin so you can get in the front door, that’s fine. I’ve got a reputation to think of, so I’ll stick to the back door, alright?” Surprisingly, the movie shows some sexual awareness here, because Luis, the young Hispanic team member he’s talking to, and whose dressed in a tux, says, “I know you’re reputation. You’re a back door man!” I think this means to imply that Louis is gay. Well, that’s something.

Meanwhile, at the front door, Steven pops out of a limo posing as the ambassador. Seems the new guy, who was in league with Fletcher when it came to kidnapping Dr. Chapel, agreed to his plan. Without even trying to warn Fletcher. Right. And the poor South American boobs who greet Steven at the opera, including the President (!), fall for the ruse – because they don’t even know what the ambassador looks like. Right. But at least we learn why the bad guys want the President dead; he opposes the big expansion that the Kelin Dyle Corporation is all hot for. (What does Kelin Dyle do besides brain wash people? I have no idea. And neither does the movie.)

Once inside Steven confronts the evil corporate head on his evilness. At the same time Dr. Mind Control calls up demanding the password to the corporate bank account – and he has another brain washed assassin pointing a gun at the CEO to boot. Outside, Steven’s crew is being chased by more bad guys in a car. Finally everybody’s inside and ready for all hell to break lose as Dr. Mind Control’s limitless supply of brash washed drones move into action. These include the president’s fiancé, ticket takers, security staff, waiters, and, of course, the orchestra conductor! (He’s only just arrived in the country that day – when did he have the time to brain wash and program all of these people?!?) After all the kicking, punching, and shooting is over the President and the CEO are still alive, but Number 2 Bloke is not.

Back at the evil laboratory, Dr. Mind-Control, foiled by Steven in getting the corporate cash, prepares to jump ship. And as a farewell gift to Fletcher, has him hooked up to a brain washer that’s set on “overload.” But before he can board his getaway helicopter Steven drives up and smashes into it. Unscathed, he then drives into the nice big plate glass windows of the HQ building itself. There follows much slow-motion, blood splattered gunplay and a super silly kung-fu face-off between Steven and a large security guard. Then the villains get killed and the lab blows up.

Then it’s off to a ritzy hotel on the beach to celebrate with Steven and the survivors. Only- ominous music – the recently freed Dr. Chapel starts getting that freaky mind control look in her eyes.

The (Stupid) End

Sean Ledden (Jan 2008)

Afterthoughts

This movie was difficult to watch because it’s a depressing stew of 1970’s-style cynicism, 1990’s-style action cliché’s, and sour 21st Century bluster. And like so much American pop-culture these days, it celebrates mindless brutality. This is not to say I support evil mind-control scientists funded by cynical South American corporations. In fact, I oppose them. Strongly. But I can’t consider this movie harmless escapist fare for 2 reasons – the sadistic relish with which the heroes commit their violence, and the movie’s attempt to be “relevant” by referring to 9/11 and incorporating suicide bombers. It then goes on to imply that winning the day is a simple matter of shooting some bad guys and blowing some things up. That’s the kind of idiotically simplistic thinking that got us into the Iraq War.

In film-making terms it fails because Steven Seagal is such a wooden zero as an actor. More, despite all that the filmmakers do to hide it, he’s obviously over weight and out of shape. For most of the action he’s off-stage or a by-stander, letting his co-stars do most of the heavy lifting. I find it amazing that he has fan base. To borrow a phrase from Stanley Kaufman, it’s one of the major minor mysteries of Hollywood.

A FOND REVIEW OF "SUBMERGED" HIGHLIGHTS.

Submerged

Submerged

Submerged

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6 comments to Submerged (2005)

  • Uruguayan

    This bad movie insults a free and democratic country. In Uruguay we don’t have terrorists, dictators, Migs and Maya ruins!!!. We have cleaner elections than US (remember Bush). What an ignonrant who created this movie. I invite you all to visit my country and see what it really looks like. Al least, check it in Wikipedia.

  • Sean

    Thanks for your comment. Looking back to Submerged, I think they tried to be a little sensitive to Uruguayan sensibilities- but the movie IS a macho fantasy. And it’s suffused with a smug assumption of American superiority, so I get where you’re coming from. It’s good to be reminded that what is “just a movie” to the home crowd can be an enraging insult to someone from where the movie is set.

  • Guts3d

    Great review as always, Sean! One question though; did Steve get threatened by a shotgun, only to flip it around and blow away his attacker with his own petard?

  • Sean

    Great question! Only at this point I can’t remember. My memory seems to have been wiped….But by whom???? Anyways, I invite you to watch Submerged in order to get the answer.

  • Guts3d

    Is this sad or what? I just checked and I have a copy of Submerged…

  • Sean

    Sad? Yes. Surprising? No. 🙂

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