Review: ‘On the Rocks,’ starring Rashida Jones and Bill Murray

October 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Rashida Jones and Bill Murray in “On the Rocks” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

“On the Rocks” (2020)

Directed by Sofia Coppola

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and Mexico, the dramatic film “On the Rocks” features a cast of white and African American characters (and a few Asians) representing the upper-middle-class and middle class.

Culture Clash: A married mother of two young daughters begins to believe her philandering father’s suspicions that her husband is cheating on her.

Culture Audience: “On the Rocks” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies about “privileged people’s problems.”

Marlon Wayans, Rashida Jones, Alexandra Reimer and Liyanna Muscat in “On the Rocks” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

“On the Rocks,” written and directed by Sofia Coppola, is the type of movie that Woody Allen has made for most of his career, but “On the Rocks” is told from a female director’s perspective. It’s a story about an upper-middle-class woman in New York City who spends almost the entire movie worrying about whether or not her husband is cheating on her. And there are several scenes with conversations about the differences between how men and women handle romance and a committed relationship.

In order for the film not to be too talkative and have some action, “On the Rocks” throws in a plot development of “I’m going to spy on my husband,” so that viewers get to see different angles of her privileged lifestyle, where she can have cocktails at exclusive lounges in the middle of the day and jet off to Mexico whenever she wants. And did we mention that this woman has daddy issues? Because that’s what’s propelling her to feel so insecure about her marriage.

“On the Rocks” telegraphs those daddy issues from the film’s opening scene, which features a dark screen with a voiceover of an unseen man telling his unseen daughter, who is presumably underage at the time this conversation is taking place: “And remember, don’t give your heart to any boys until you’re married. And then you’re still mine.”

The movie then cuts to the lavish wedding of Laura (played by Rashida Jones) and Dean (played by Marlon Wayans), who are blissfully happy on this big day in their relationship. The wedding reception is in one of those European-styled ballroom halls that includes a romantically lit swimming pool on the property. When they are alone at the reception, Laura and Dean are seen impulsively stripped down to their underwear and frolicking in the swimming pool.

The movie then fast-forwards several years later. Laura and Dean are now parents to two daughters: Maya (played by Liyanna Muscat), who’s about 9 or 10 years old, and Theo (played by identical twins Alexandra Reimer and Anna Reimer), who’s about 3 or 4 years old. Maya and Theo are both adorable and obedient kids. Dean is a busy executive at a company whose industry is not named, but it’s the type of company that revolves around getting clients from all over the world. Therefore, Dean does a lot of traveling.

Laura, who’s 39 and soon about to turn 40, is a writer who’s working on a novel called “Amici e Conoscenti,” which is Italian for “Friends and Acquaintances.” The movie has a brief flash of the book cover, and it looks as pretentious as it sounds. Laura and Dean live in the type of spacious New York City apartment that’s for people who can afford a home that’s worth at least $3 million. However, they don’t have servants, and Laura’s casual style of dressing indicates that she tries to be as “down-to-earth” as possible.

One thing that Laura is very uptight about though is her current situation of having writer’s block. She moans to Dean that she shouldn’t have sold her book before writing it. Laura, who works from home, also complains that it’s hard for her to adjust to writing during the day when she’s accustomed to writing at night. In other words, Laura has privileged people’s problems.

And soon, there’s another problem that will preoccupy Laura’s thoughts. One night, when Laura and Dean are in bed, he starts kissing her while he’s half-asleep, but then he suddenly stops when he hears Laura’s voice. Laura doesn’t really know what to think about this interrupted amorous moment, so she asks two people in separate phone conversations. And she gets two completely different answers.

The first person she asks is an unidentified female friend, who tells Laura that she shouldn’t worry about it because Dean is a wonderful and loving husband who wouldn’t cheat on her. The other person Laura talks to about it is her father Felix (played by Bill Murray), who immediately tells Laura that Dean is probably cheating on her. Laura gives Dean the benefit of the doubt and tries to put the incident out of her mind.

But then, one day, while she’s unpacking Dean’s luggage, she sees a woman’s toiletry bag in his suitcase. She opens the bag and sees body oil. She takes the bag out and leaves it on the dresser. Her suspicions begin to percolate, but she doesn’t say anything to Dean about it right away. Some of the passion has gone out of their marriage, but Laura thinks it’s because they’ve been busy with their separate careers.

Soon after finding this mystery toiletry bag, Laura and Dean attend a work party that Dean’s company is having at the office. At the party, she meets for the first time a woman named Fiona (played by Jessica Henwick), a fairly new account manager who works closely with Dean and usually goes on the same business trips with Dean and some of their other colleagues. Fiona is outgoing, effusive, and seems very happy to meet Laura.

Fiona then introduces Laura to two other work colleagues: Jenna (played by Zoe Bullock) and Chase (played by Chase Sui Wonders), who aren’t as friendly as Fiona. In fact, they seem slightly uncomfortable talking to Laura, so the conversation is brief and awkward. At this point, viewers are probably thinking what Laura is probably thinking: “Are any of these women having an affair with Dean?”

During Laura and Dean’s ride back home, Laura casually mentions the toiletry bag that she found in Dean’s suitcase. He tells her that the bag belongs to Fiona, who asked him to carry it for her in his suitcase because the toiletry bag couldn’t fit into her carry-on luggage. He says he’ll return the bag to Fiona. Dean’s response seems open and honest, without hesitation, surprise or guilt. And so, Laura accepts that explanation and doesn’t make a big issue out of it.

However, Laura’s father Felix won’t let it go, and he plants seeds of doubt in Laura’s mind about Dean’s marital fidelity when he starts interrogating Laura about Dean’s activities when Dean is away on business trips. Felix, who is a semi-retired art dealer who used to own an art gallery, even gives an analysis of the type of hotels that Dean stays at, by commenting on which hotels are more discreet than others if someone wants to have an affair. Felix is also an incessant name dropper who loves to brag about all the people around the world he knows, including hotel concierges, who can do favors for him.

How does Felix know all of about the mind of a cheater? Because he’s a longtime philanderer, and it’s the reason why Laura’s mother Diane (played by Alva Chinn) and Felix got divorced years ago. Felix left Diane for his mistress, a much-younger woman named Robin, but that relationship didn’t work out either.

It’s not clearly stated when Felix and Diane got divorced, but it’s implied that it happened when Laura and her younger sister Amanda (played by Juliana Canfield) were still children and living at home. It’s clear as the story goes on that the devastation of the divorce and Felix’s perpetual selfishness have caused Amanda to become estranged from her father. And the pent-up resentment that Laura has about Felix’s role in the divorce comes out later in the movie’s best scene.

Felix is addicted to being a playboy, because everywhere he goes, he flirts with women who are almost always young enough to be his daughter. He also has an outdated, very sexist attitude toward life that is a mix of Neanderthal and elitist. In the beginning of the movie, Felix is only heard on the phone because he’s away on a trip in Paris. When he arrives back in New York City to see Laura, his insufferable personality is on full display.

Felix loves to spout self-righteous platitudes where he thinks he’s always right in his mindset that men always have to be dominant and superior to women. His ramblings are a mishmash of garbled anthropology and philosophy to justify why he has such a sexist attitude toward women. It’s really all just Felix’s egomaniacal way of denying that he’s a crass boor who doesn’t want to admit that a lot of men have evolved from the old days when women were treated like property.

For example, in one scene, Felix explains to Laura that in ancient times, women’s breasts reminded men of when humans used to walk on their haunches. The rounder the breasts, the more desirable the woman, according to Felix. Felix also says that men are attracted to adolescent females because adolescent females are easier to catch and therefore easier to mate with in man’s instinctual need to spread his seed. What’s creepy about this comment about adolescent females is that Felix thinks that what applied to ancient times—when human life expectancy was much shorter than it is now and having kids at age 14 was considered normal—applies to society today.

Adding to the “creep” level of Felix, he’s weirdly flattered when he and Laura are out in public together and people assume that Laura is his girlfriend. He mentions it any chance he gets to Laura, who is understandably uncomfortable with this semi-incestuous implication. It’s pathetic insecurity on Felix’s part, but there’s not much Laura thinks she can do about it because he’s her father and he’s set in his ways. Occasionally, she scolds him by saying things like, “Can you just be normal around women?”

And it comes as no surprise that Felix thinks that men aren’t wired to be monogamous. It’s an incredibly narrow-minded viewpoint that doesn’t take into account that not everyone is the same when it comes to love and committed relationships. It’s an example of how Felix, as he does throughout the entire story, believes that his way of thinking is always the correct way, even if it’s “politically incorrect” by today’s standards.

As annoying as Felix might be to some people watching this movie, there are many men with money and privilege who think the exact same way as Felix does. They might not share these thoughts with everyone, but they will talk about it with people whom they feel comfortable with, and this backwards mindset is reflected in how they live their lives. (These are the type of men who hate the #MeToo movement.) Some people might think that the Felix character is over-the-top and unrealistic, but it’s a very accurate depiction of how some people in certain social circles really think and act in life.

And so, it comes as no surprise, considering Felix’s history of infidelity, that he’s quick to assume that Dean is cheating on Laura. Felix keeps nagging Laura to do something about it and even takes it upon himself to hire a private detective to spy on Dean. Felix keeps telling Laura that Dean is probably having an affair with Fiona.

At first, Laura is appalled by Felix’s assumptions, but eventually she gets sucked into Felix’s suspicions and gives in to the idea that she should start spying on Dean too. Felix is happy to egg her on, and he spearheads arrangements so that Laura can go with him on these spying excursions.

There are several scenes where Felix shows up at Laura’s home or calls her and expects her to drop everything so that Laura can accompany him for drinks at this swanky hotel or that upscale lounge. Over cocktails and at stuffy parties, they commiserate over Dean’s possible infidelity, as well as talk about Felix’s point of view that it’s harder for men to be faithful spouses than it is for women.

At one point in the movie, Laura wails to Felix and asks him if it’s possible for women to keep their love partners’ interest and if it’s possible for men to still be attracted women once they reach past a certain age. (Felix believes a woman reaches her attractiveness “expiration date” around the age of 40.) Felix says that it’s possible for a woman to hold a man’s interest in a long-term relationship if she still has confidence that she’s attractive.

Even though Felix is the last person who should be lecturing other people about successful, monogamous relationships, he does have a good point about self-confidence that Laura completely misses because she’s become too caught up in her own misery and insecurities in thinking that she might not be good enough for Dean anymore. An objective observer would also be able to see that Felix seems way too invested and too eager to find out if Dean is a lying, cheating husband. It’s as if Felix wants confirmation that there are more men than not who are cheaters, even if it means that his daughter will be emotionally hurt in the process.

The dynamics between Laura and the women in her family have subtle clues about how race and class play a role in their family’s hierarchy. There’s a scene where Laura, her sister Amanda, and their multiracial mother Diane are having an outdoor luncheon with Felix’s mother (played by Barbara Bain), who’s called Gran in the movie, at Gran’s grand estate. Gran immediately expresses disapproval to Laura about how Laura is dressed (Laura tends to wear blazers, jeans and flat shoes), while Diane nips this criticism in the bud by telling Laura that she looks great.

The topic inevitably turns to Felix, who is clearly a troublemaker in the family, and Gran makes excuses for him by saying he was rebellious even as a child. Amanda tells Laura that she doesn’t know how she can still put up with their father, while Diane (who’s been through enough with Felix to last a lifetime) tries not to say anything negative about Felix in front of his mother. This scene explains a lot about Felix’s upbringing and why he turned out the way that he did. (Felix’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie, but it’s implied that Felix’s mother is a widow.)

In one of Felix and Laura’s spying excursions, Felix shows his elitist attitude when he scoffs that Dean and some colleagues are going to be hanging out at Soho House (a members-only social club in downtown Manhattan), which Felix considers to be a “downmarket” place because it’s apparently not upscale enough for Felix. For this spying trip, Felix picks up Laura in his red Alfa Romeo, as you do when you’re spying on someone and you want to show off your car instead of being truly incognito.

When Dean and Fiona get in a taxi together, it leads to a not-very-subtle car chase with Felix speeding to try catch up to the taxi. Felix gets pulled over for speeding by two cop partners, but he charms his way out of getting a ticket because Felix happens to know the father and grandfather of one of the cops. The cop’s demeanor changes from stern to friendly.

As Felix and Laura drive off, Laura says to him, “It must be great to be you.” And Felix agrees. The words “white privilege” aren’t said in this scene, but this scene shows how someone like Felix can get away with certain things, while someone of a different color or race who’s pulled over by police for the same reason probably wouldn’t be let off as easily.

The subplot about Laura’s writer’s block is important because it provides some context for why Laura wastes time and goes along with Felix’s schemes. She’s avoiding working on her book to go off to wherever Felix thinks they should go on a moment’s notice. She’s running away from a problem (finishing her book) by distracting herself with another potential problem (her possibly crumbling marriage).

Nowhere is this avoidance more evident than when Felix convinces Laura that they should go to Mexico to spy on Dean while Dean is on a business trip there with Fiona. In the movie’s most unrealistic contrivance, Felix just happens to know someone who owns a condo that’s right next to the resort in Mexico where Dean is staying. And so, Laura hastily arranges for her mother to watch the kids while she flies off to Mexico with Felix for a few days. This trip leads to a reckoning that gives clarity to Laura on her relationship with her father and on her marriage.

Because the movie is more about Laura’s relationship with Felix than it is about Laura’s relationship with Dean, this father and daughter are the two characters who get the most screen time. Dean seems like an overall good guy, but there’s not enough shown of him and the other supporting characters to give any insight into their personalities. Jenny Slate has a recurring role as a single mother named Vanessa, whose son goes to the same school as Laura’s daughter Maya. Vanessa’s only purpose in the movie is to give neurotic, rambling monologues about her love life to Laura while they’re waiting somewhere at the school, and Laura has to find an excuse to get away from Vanessa.

Jones is the cast member who shines the most in the emotional scenes between her and Murray, who portrays Felix as jaded and desperately trying not to show his insecurities. For all of Felix’s macho attitude toward women, he’s still very much alone and doesn’t have a romantic partner in his life who truly loves him and vice versa. There’s a world-weary sadness that Murray brings to the role that’s nuanced among Felix’s ego posturing.

The movie is also a subtle commentary on how people who seemingly “have it all” can still find ways to create problems in their lives, often out of sheer boredom. Because really, the average person does not have time to gallivant around cocktail lounges during the day and fly to resorts in other countries with their father on short notice, in order to spy on a spouse.

However, amid all of these shenanigans, what this movie shows is that Laura and Felix, in their own ways, are haunted by how infidelity and divorce had an effect on their family. Laura doesn’t want to go through what her mother Diane experienced (having her husband leave her for another woman), while Felix is determined to show Laura that it could happen to her because he’s convinced that Dean is cheating on Laura.

Rashida Jones, who is the daughter of Grammy-winning legend Quincy Jones, co-directed the 2018 documentary “Quincy” about her father’s life. This documentary, which had Quincy Jones’ participation, shows that Rashida also has a close but complicated relationship with her divorced father, who has publicly admitted that he’s incapable of extended monogamy. That’s probably why there’s an authenticity to how Rashida Jones plays the role of Laura in expressing both loyalty and exasperation when she’s with her father.

“On the Rocks” isn’t Coppola’s best film, but it’s not her worst either. The performances of Rashida Jones and Murray are the best parts of what could have been a very pedestrian movie. “On the Rocks” might be compared to Coppola’s 2003 Oscar-winning movie “Lost in Translation,” because that film also had Murray as an older man in a complicated relationship with a younger woman (played by Scarlett Johansson). However, “On the Rocks” is very much in the mold of a Woody Allen film, except that Allen doesn’t cast African Americans as stars of his movies. But just like Allen’s films, “On the Rocks” avoids showing racial issues in a racially diverse big city like New York because the movie wants to be about how privileged neurotics need love too.

Apple TV+ released “On the Rocks” in select U.S. cinemas October 9, 2020. Apple TV+ premiered “On the Rocks” on October 23, 2020.

Review: ‘Love and Monsters,’ starring Dylan O’Brien

October 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dylan O’Brien in “Love and Monsters” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Love and Monsters”

Directed by Michael Matthews

Culture Representation: Taking place in California and other parts of the U.S., the sci-fi/horror/adventure film “Love and Monsters” has a predominantly white cast (with some Asians, Latinos and African Americans) portraying the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 24-year-old man goes on a quest to reunite with his former high-school sweetheart during an apocalypse in which deadly mutant monsters have taken over the world.

Culture Audience: “Love and Monsters” will appeal to several generations of people who like sci-fi/horror movies that successfully blend other genres, such as comedy, action, romance and drama.

Jessica Henwick in “Love and Monsters” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Even though “Love and Monsters” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which mutant monsters have killed off about 95% of the human population, the movie is not a grim and horrific slog that many people would expect it to be. In fact, “Love and Monsters” (directed by Michael Matthews) has a lot of charming comedy as well as heartfelt dramatic moments that can appeal to a wide variety of people. It’s the type of winning movie that people would want to see repeatedly and ask for a sequel. (And the end of the “Love and Monsters” definitely leaves open the possibility that there could be a continuation of the story.)

The central character of “Love and Monsters” is Joel Dawson (played by Dylan O’Brien), a 24-year-old “regular guy,” who lives in an underground bunker with several other young people who are under the age of 40. Apocalypse survivors who live together as a community call themselves a colony. According to Joel’s voiceover narration in the beginning of the movie, the apocalypse (which is called the Monsterpocalypse) happened when chemical compounds from bombs rained back down on Earth and caused animals to mutate into giant monsters.

The monsters killed most of the world’s human population within a year. The survivors fled underground, they live in colony bunkers, and go above ground in hunting parties to search for food. In addition to food that they find above ground, the members of Joel’s colony survive by growing their own food inside the bunker. They also have a cow for milk.

“Love and Monsters” takes place seven years after the Monsterpocalypse began. Joel is an orphan whose parents were killed right when the apocalypse started while the family was trying to escape the monsters that invaded their neighborhood. Joel (who is an an only child) is originally from Fairfield, California, a city about 45 miles northeast of San Francisco. Like most apocalypse survivors, Joel doesn’t have any biological family members who are still alive.

Joel has found a new family with the colony of survivors who rescued him when the apocalypse began. However, Joel feels like somewhat of an outsider in the group. All of the other members of the colony have coupled up (and one couple has had a baby together), while Joel is the only one who doesn’t have a love partner. He also gets scared easily and freezes up when he sees monsters. Therefore, the colony doesn’t consider Joel to be useful for hunting trips and anything that would involve defending their colony from danger.

However, Joel is good at fixing things, he’s loves to draw, and he’s the colony’s main cook. One of the gadgets that Joel likes to tinker with is the bunker’s portable radio, which is the main way that colonies communicate with each other. (Television, phones and the Internet don’t exist in this world.)

Through a lot of investigating and persistence, Joel has found out that his first love, Aimee (played by Jessica Henwick), who was his girlfriend in high school, is living in a colony about 85 miles away in a place called Jenner Beach. He makes contact with Aimee, and she seems thrilled to hear from Joel. Over a period of time, they continue to talk to each other over the radio. And Joel finds himself falling in love with Aimee again.

When Joel and Aimee dated in high school (the movie has a few brief flashback scenes to this time period), their romance was interrupted because they were forced to flee separately with their respective families during the apocalypse. And then, Joel and Aimee lost touch with each other, until now. Because Joel feels like the “odd man out” in his colony, he’s starting to wonder if he really belongs there.

Joel’s colony has a close call when a monster invades the bunker and nearly kills Joel, who is rescued just in time by some other people in the colony who shoot the monster and kill it. This incident causes Joel’s self-esteem to take another hit because he believes that the other members of the colony think of him as a cowardly wimp. This near-death experience and his yearning to reunite with Aimee motivate Joel to say goodbye to his colony to go above ground and reunited with Aimee.

The members of Joel’s colony are disappointed to see him go and they’re very skeptical that Joel will be able to survive this trip on his own. But Joel is determined to go. All they can do is wish him well. One of the members of the colony gives him a map, while Joel takes some other items on the trip, including weapons and a portable radio that hasn’t worked in a long time.

Joel’s trip isn’t always dangerous, but it has a lot of close calls with a variety of giant mutant animals. One of the first that he encounters is a giant frog in someone’s abandoned backyard. Joel is rescued from the giant frog by an intelligent and expressive Australian Kelpie, which Joel calls Boy. This stray dog becomes Joel’s constant companion throughout most of the movie. And the scenes with Joel and Boy are among the best in “Love and Monsters.”

At another point in the movie, Joel accidentally falls into a pit that’s the nest of a creature called a sandgobbler. This time, he’s rescued by two humans: a middle-aged macho man named Clyde (played by Michael Rooker) and a sassy 8-year-old girl named Minnow (played by Ariana Greenblatt), who are not related to each other but are traveling together because their family members have died.

Minnow initially teases Joel over his tendency to get frightened easily, but Minnow eventually learns to respect Joel when he improves his target and defense skills. Clyde and Minnow are traveling north to a destination called Snow Mountain Wilderness, which has a colony of survivors who say the location is safer than other places because the cold and elevation keep the monsters away. The camaraderie between these three seemingly unlikely travel companions is also one of the highlights of “Love and Monsters.”

Clyde and Minnow invite Joel to go to Snow Mountain Wilderness with them. And when all three of the travelers reach the literal crossroads where Joel has to decide to go with Clyde and Minnow or continue west to reunite with Aimee, it’s easy to know what decision he will make. The rest of the movie takes a few twists and turns that refreshingly avoid a lot of predictable scenarios.

The visual effects for “Love and Monsters” are above-average, but they’re not going to be nominated for any major awards. The movie’s world building and how these creatures look are a commentary on the hazardous and deadly effects of humans who don’t take care of the environment. And the environment gets revenge on the humans in this apocalyptic way. The deadly mutant creatures include giant snails and what’s considered the most fearsome and worst mutant monster of them all: the Queen Sandgobbler, which looks like a giant mutant crab.

But not all of the monsters are deadly. Some of the giant creatures just want to be free to live without being hunted, and there’s a message in the movie about how monsters can be judged by looking at their eyes. It sounds a lot cornier than how it’s handled in the movie. One type of harmless creature is the sky jellyfish, which appear in one of the most touching and visually compelling scenes in the movie.

O’Brien, who was the star of “The Maze Runner” movie series, takes on a very different type of post-apocalyptic world in “Love and Monsters,” where humans are more likely to be helpful to each other, rather than have their lives revolve around the cutthroat and cruel competitions that are the basis of “The Maze Runner.” That doesn’t mean all is harmonious among people in the world of “Love and Monsters.” Someone can be expelled from a colony for stealing food, which is considered one of the worst crimes to commit in the “Love and Monsters” world.

The “Love and Monsters” screenplay was written by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson, who successfully mix various genres in the story. Most of the humor comes from Joel’s self-admitted awkwardness and insecurities, which many viewers will ultimately find endearing because he remains a humble person who’s a romantic at heart. Duffield also wrote and directed the critically acclaimed 2020 film “Spontaneous,” another Paramount Pictures movie about a young romance during a plague, although “Spontaneous” has a darker edge that’s geared to mature audiences. Thanks to assured direction, a genre-blending original story, and an appealing cast of characters, “Love and Monsters” is a crowd-pleaser that invites people into a world that’s very perilous to live in, but it’s a world that viewers will want to revisit and see what happens next.

Paramount Pictures released “Love and Monsters” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on October 16, 2020.

Review: ‘Underwater,’ starring Kristen Stewart

January 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristen Stewart in “Underwater”
Kristen Stewart in “Underwater” (Photo by Alan Markfield)

“Underwater”

Directed by William Eubank

Culture Representation: The movie’s characters are a predominately white, educated crew of underwater explorers (with one African American and one Asian) who are tasked with drilling for resources in the deep ocean when they come under attack and fight for their lives.

Culture Clash: Telling a story with an implied environmental message, “Underwater” shows what happens when deep-ocean creatures fight back against humans who plunder their territory.

Culture Audience: “Underwater” will primarily appeal to those looking for a suspenseful sci-fi/horror movie that won’t be considered a classic but will provide about 90 minutes of escapist entertainment.

Kristen Stewart in “Underwater” (Photo by Alan Markfield)

Kristen Stewart: action hero? Taking massive cues from Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character in “Alien,” Stewart goes from brainy, introspective crew member to kick-ass warrior, as she takes on deep-sea monsters in the sci-fi/horror film “Underwater.” After starring in the 2019 comedy reboot fiasco of Columbia Pictures’ “Charlie’s Angels,” Stewart (who’s been making mostly arty indie films for the past several years) has taken another step into major-studio action fare—but in 20th Century Fox’s “Underwater,” she’s going for scares instead of laughs.

During the opening credits of “Underwater,” there are flashes of media headlines and news reports about unconfirmed sightings of mysterious creatures in the deep ocean. According to the headlines, a major corporation named Kepler has been mining the deep oceans for resources, and hasn’t been giving full explanations for why employees have apparently disappeared from the underwater drilling sites. These elaborate, high-tech facilities (which are seven miles below the ocean surface) look like a cross between a factory, a spaceship and an underground bunker. They’re so high-tech that the Kepler workers living in these facilities for weeks or months at a time don’t need to wear oxygen masks or submarine suits when they’re in the building.

Within the first five minutes of the film, we’re barely introduced to Stewart’s mechanical/electrical engineer character Norah Price (who looks pensive as she brushes her teeth, muses about her isolation in a voiceover, and thinks about her broken love affair with her former fiancé) when the facility is hit with a massive explosion that kills many people in the crew and destroys the emergency equipment. Six of the surviving crew members, including Norah, find each other and agree to a desperate plan to walk across the ocean floor to an abandoned facility named Roebuck, in the hopes that Roebuck’s emergency equipment still works so they can escape or call for help.

The other five crew members are crew captain Lucien (played by Vincent Cassel), a take-charge Frenchman who has a 14-year-old daughter waiting for him at home; marine biology student Emily (played by Jessica Henwick), an inquisitive type who scares easily; operations expert Smith (played by John Gallagher Jr.), who’s in a romantic relationship with Emily; systems manager Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), a solid guy who has a dorky side; and wisecracking Paul (played by T.J. Miller, who can’t seem to break out of his typecast as a supporting character who’s socially awkward and talks too much). They soon find out what caused the explosion (Hint: It wasn’t faulty equipment.)

Because the frantic action begins so early in the film, the “Underwater” screenplay by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad doesn’t leave much room for character development. The actors do the best that they can with the generic characters and mostly forgettable dialogue that were written for them. The movie’s biggest asset, under the choppy direction of William Eubank, is the way it ramps up suspense, even if there are glaring plot holes the size of the ocean where these crew members are trapped. The visual effects for the sea monsters also achieve their intended impact, but the creatures’ very existence in the ocean (much like Godzilla) requires a huge suspension of disbelief. And cinematographer Bojan Bazelli serves up some compelling shots that might give some people the feelings of dizziness or claustrophobia if the movie is watched on a big screen.

However, the “Underwater” filmmakers don’t want viewers of this movie to think too hard, because then you’ll start to ask questions that unravel the plot, such as: “How could creatures of this size and quantity escape detection for so long?” Even if one company tried to cover up the existence of these monsters, their impact on the environment would be noticed already by too many marine biologists and people who work directly in the ocean. Monsters in outer space make more sense if they’re supposed to be undetected by humans on Earth. And at least in the world of Godzilla, millions of people in that world know that Godzilla is a creature that lives in the ocean. In “Underwater,” these monsters are a total surprise to the unlucky crew members who encounter them.

Just like a lot of movies whose plot is driven by suspense, “Underwater” also has a “race against time” element because (of course) the survivors are running out of oxygen. But this plot device is conveniently ignored when these so-called trained underwater professionals waste a lot of oxygen by talking too much. Paul, the annoying motormouth, is the chief culprit. In order to enjoy this movie, you can’t pay attention to the screenplay’s inconsistencies in how their underwater suits are supposed to work.

And since this is a horror movie, not everyone is going to get out alive. But there will be moments of further disbelief when certain characters go through things that would kill someone in real life, and then they survive, and you’re left wondering, “How are they still alive…and with their hair still neatly in place?” And—this is no joke—you can see freshly applied beauty makeup on one of the actresses’ faces after her character has supposedly gone through underwater hell. There must be some industrial-quality waterproof lipstick they have in that underwater bunker. There’s also a small stuffed animal that gets carried around as a good luck charm that somehow doesn’t get lost or destroyed during all the mayhem. “Underwater” is not a movie made for people who pay attention to these kinds of details.

“Underwater” is certainly not the worst horror film of 2020, and the movie’s ending should be commended for not being a total cliché. However, if you want a horror flick with memorable characters and a solid plot, then you’ll have to look elsewhere.

20th Century Fox released “Underwater” in U.S. cinemas on January 10, 2020.