80s Revisited: Dead Calm

Dead Calm (1989)
Directed by Phillip Noyce; screenplay by Terry Hayes; produced by George Miller, Terry Hayes & Doug Mitchell


I caught this one last week on cable. Hadn't seen it in years and was in the mood for some trash after the tedium of sitting through all of those boring Oscar nominees, so I thought I'd check it out. I remember when this one used to be all over HBO or something about 20 years ago. It always had this illicit reputation and they always showed it late at night.

Seeing it again at age 35, I realize the illicit reputation is probably something I made up in my head because I was 15 and it was on late at night and it has some nudity in it. I've heard stories, too, about how Nicole Kidman's nude scenes--and this is the only time I'd ever consider her sexuality raw and exciting, especially after years of seeing her carry her head full of Botox around--were so popular with Hollywood execs that they're basically what transplanted her from Australia to Hollywood and the extremely awful Days of Thunder and the even more awful Tom Cruise.

As for the film itself, it tries to be a psychological thriller, but it's mostly just dull. Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman play a married couple who have recently lost their child in an accident; to get away from their grief, they set out on a boat trip, only to pick up a distress signal and find Billy Zane (uch, can you imagine?) on a sinking boat where everyone else has died. The next thing you know, he's trapped Neill on the ship and is sailing away with Kidman and trying to boff her and even palling around with Neill's dog (which is just a step too far, man... where's your loyalty, man's best friend, you little fuck?). And boredom ensues, although the ending is satisfying (and predictable).

I used to like Phillip Noyce; I haven't seen anything he's made in years, but I liked some of the movies of his I'm supposed to hate or something. Here, he doesn't quite make the confines of the two boats work to create tension for this thriller. But the bigger disappointment, at least for me, is that we have screenwriter Terry Hayes and producer George Miller, the guys who made The Road Warrior, unable to do anything exciting with this potentially bizarre plot. No matter how much Billy Zane sweats and screams and crazy-laughs, it's just a slow, dull flick with a great nude scene.

(That said, I'm not exactly fond of Hayes or Miller at this point, either. Some time I'll have to go through Terry Hayes' unused script for the Planet of the Apes remake... it's so very much worse than what Tim Burton did to it. And Miller made Happy Feet, which I despise.)

So there you go... It's there. And it's certainly a movie. And they all called it a day's work.