Meet Vic and Melinda Van Allen, the yin and yang of the country club circuit. He likes to brood; she likes to dance. He’s a teetotaler; she’s a lush. He rather likes monogamy; she likes to nuzzle other men in front of her husband. Actually, on second thought, maybe steer clear entirely of the Van Allens — or their movie.
“Deep Water,” despite an all-star team behind it, barely makes a splash. Although it is being billed as an erotic thriller, it’s tedious and clunky. Trips to the supermarket are more exciting. Even the tagline — “The love story is never the whole story” — makes no sense.
Director Adrian Lyne has a reputation as the master of sexy mind games with such films as “Fatal Attraction,” “Indecent Proposal,” “Unfaithful” and “9½ Weeks.” But whereas those were taut, this is frighteningly slack. It takes a dysfunctional couple, stretches their meandering toxicity to silly lengths and then adds murder too late.
It stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas as the battling Van Allens, he a wealthy computer chip maker who has retired young and she as a homemaker laser-focused on being a homewrecker by cheating on him. “You’re a weird guy,” she says to him. “So I’ve been told,” he replies. The stars give the film an extra frisson only because they dated in real life.
Most of the movie is Affleck in slow burn mode, doing his best Jay Gatsby, wandering around mansions alone during parties or glumly following his wife in his car. He grips banisters tightly and passive-aggressively throws away her lover’s bouquet of flowers. “Hello, Mr. Boring,” she’ll say to him.
De Armas plays her role as anything but boring — but not stable, either. She’s a potty-mouthed, boozy, finger-licking sexpot in a clingy dress, the kind of lady who is ready to dance a little too quickly and enthusiastically at parties and who is likely to suggestively mount a piano. She has two modes: cold or frighteningly hot. There is no real woman on Earth like her.
Affleck’s Vic fills his days with marathon bike rides, absentmindedly watching over their child and inspecting his snails — yes, more on that later — while his wife concentrates on wine and one young lover after another, making things very awkward for everyone. His friends warn him, but he’s not the confronting type. “I don’t feel the need to dictate her choices. I accept her and love her for who she is,” he says.
The assumption is that this arrangement suits both people. She says he would die of boredom in a regular relationship; she enjoys pushing his buttons, egging him on to be spontaneous. “Sometimes I think he’s not normal, because normal people can let go,” she taunts. But the film isn’t interested in really exploring this and so adds murder as it lurches toward a ridiculous end.
The story is based on a story by novelist Patricia Highsmith that’s been co-adapted by “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson. But something seems to be lost. Highsmith was inverting sexual stereotypes of the 1950s, while the film is just shallow rich people weirdness in 2022 with some horror movie music.
Take the use of snails. In the book, Vic gives them names and creates backstories for them, finding it touching to watch as two court each other, enchanted by what he is missing in his own life. In the film, he’s just a sad-sack with pet snails.
It’s a hard film to watch and wastes Tracy Letts, Lil Rel Howery and a great turn by newcomer Grace Jenkins, who plays the poor child of this mismatch couple with aplomb. But it’s hopeless: “Deep Water” needs to stay a deep cut.
“Deep Water,” a Hulu release that hits the streamer Friday, is rated R for “some violence, language, sexual content and nudity.” Running time: 115 minutes. Half a star out of four.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.