Submarine films used to be a reliable action sub-genre with “The Abyss,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “Crimson Tide.” But such movies had gradually drifted away until “Black Sea” surfaced.
Eschewing any naval war or science plot, this decrepit sub is manned by another familiar action group: ragtag mercenaries. They’re on a privately funded hunt for Nazi gold from a U-Boat that sank in Russian-patrolled waters.
Jude Law, in his ongoing career evolution from steely dandy to the more profitable aging action hero, is the cliche-ridden Scottish captain whose masculinity is amusingly threatened scene by scene.
The back story for his Capt. Robinson nearly descends into B-movie parody level — fired from the only job he’s known in the opening scene by a heartless contractor, then staring longingly at his estranged wife and kid from a car — but the film is too earnest to indulge. Humor instead comes in locker-room quips that you’ll embarrassingly laugh with ... or at.
Dennis Kelly’s uninspiring debut script features such retreads as, “He gave his life to his job, just like us,” “I’m not going home poor. Not after this,” and “We live together, we die together.” Nearly every crew member conflict and impending sub disaster is painstakingly foreshadowed, making audience prediction effortless.
The film’s open nostalgia for 1990s action films (coincidentally the sub flick heyday) sets a decent blueprint to follow. The underwater scenes are filmed well, and it’s nice to see miniatures as effect instead of ugly, pointless computer-generated bubbles. I’ll take its 1990s score over blaring dubstep any day.
It also is notable that the Russians portrayed in native tongue throughout “Black Sea” come across as more humane and pragmatic than their often paranoid, confrontational Scottish peers. The entire crew is unified by an intriguing, occasionally thoughtful working-class contempt for the wealthy. But fighting (and a periodic murder) among them overshadows any worthwhile solidarity.
Director Kevin Macdonald was building an eclectic filmography with critically acclaimed documentaries (“Touching the Void,” “Marley”) and gritty crowdpleasers (“The Last King of Scotland,” “State of Play”). But “Black Sea” lacks an identity and reveals that his genre-hopping isn’t quite up to the comparable wide-ranging consistency of fellow British director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire”).