'Deep Water' review: Affleck, de Armas fizzle in erotic thriller dud

Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas play a couple in a, well, unconventional marriage in director Adrian Lyne's first film in 20 years.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Once was a time, long before the Marvel superheroes were saving the planet every few months, when erotic thrillers roamed the multiplexes. These were movies made for adults, by adults, they contained sex scenes and nudity, and they explored sexual politics and dynamics in an often frank, scintillating and entertaining fashion.   

"Deep Water" marks the return of the star-driven erotic thriller, but it won't do much for the genre's health or viability. It contains and revolves around sex but it isn't particularly sexy, and it goes spectacularly off the deep end in its goofy third act. It's made by one of the form's masters, Adrian Lyne, but the touch he had with "9½ Weeks," "Fatal Attraction" and "Indecent Proposal" is long gone, and "Deep Water" winds up drowning in its own silliness. 

Grace Jenkins, Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck in "Deep Water."

Ben Affleck plays Vic Van Allen, a supergenius of sorts who invented a computer chip which expedited the process of drone warfare. When challenged on the ethics of his invention, he's aloof and unfazed. He's now retired and spends his time riding his bike around New Orleans, tending to his robust collection of snails, raising his 6-year-old daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins), and, oh yeah, keeping tabs on all the boyfriends his wife Melinda is bringing home. 

Ana de Armas, Affleck's real life squeeze back in 2019 when "Deep Water" was filmed, plays Melinda. Not only is she open about her relationships with other men, she flaunts them, and has her younger, hotter boy toys come by the house for dinner and such. Let's meet them! There's Joel (Brendan C. Miller), a Brad Pitt-type who looks like he just washed up on the beach; Charlie De Lisle ("The Kissing Booth's" Jacob Elordi), who gives Melinda expensive piano lessons and much more (wink, wink); and there's Tony (Finn Wittrock), Melinda's ex- from way back, who is fine with a rekindling of their old flame, as long as Vic is, you know, cool with it. 

Please support our work. Find the latest subscription deals and offers here.

Well he is cool with it, and he isn't. The other men, see, it's sort of their kink: Melinda enjoys emasculating Vic (or "re-masculating," as the clueless Joel puts it during an awkward encounter with Mr. Van Allen) and Vic, he tolerates it, and while it doesn't always feel good he's become resigned to it. "If you were married to anyone else," she taunts him, "you'd be so (expletive) bored, you'd kill yourself." 

Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck in "Deep Water."

Himself? Nah. Others? Perhaps. When Melinda's special friends start winding up at the city morgue, it's all a little too coincidental, and their kink accrues a body count. (Melinda seems to know what's happening, but is in no hurry to do anything about it.) 

Others become suspicious. A friend of the couple, budding screenwriter Don (Tracy Letts), sees a potential screenplay in all this. (His might have been tighter than the one here by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson, which is based on Patricia Highsmith's 1957 novel.) Meanwhile, Vic's friends Grant (Lil Rel Howery) and Jonas (Dash Mihok) don't ask many questions, or do much else, really; they seem like they were shuttled in from another movie altogether, and they barely seem like they've ever even met Vic, let alone grown to be friends with him. 

"Deep Water" begins as an exploration of masculinity and what makes Vic and Melinda's relationship tick, but it doesn't ask enough questions or provide enough answers. It winds up veering into high camp; the turning point is somewhere around the time that Tony, visiting for dinner, wonders if they'll be enjoying escargot as an appetizer and Vic tells him through his teeth, "THE SNAILS ARE NOT FOR EATING." No, they're for brooding, and Vic's hobby of snail care is meant to give him a dark, mysterious side, but all it ends up drawing is parallels to Willem Dafoe's character's fondness for leeches in "Speed 2: Cruise Control."

Once "Deep Water" derails, it doesn't bother holding back, and at one point it stages a chase between a mountain bike and an automobile that winds up a lot closer than you'd think. (Letts, bless him, either wittingly or unwittingly ends up turning in a bumbling comic performance.)  

The 81-year-old Lyne, directing his first feature since 2002's "Unfaithful," gets a game performance from de Armas but stiff work from Affleck, who looks like he's playing a cuckold version of his character from "The Accountant." Who is Vic, and what drives him? What does his background as a tech genius have to do with his current life? And what's with his obsession with snails?

Affleck is all slack jaw and resignation in the role, a part that could have used some of the spark he's brought to his recent performances in "The Way Back" and "The Last Duel." He's blank, but he's not the only reason why there's no erotic or thrills here. It may be sold as hot, but "Deep Water" goes as cold as a snail's trail. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Deep Water'

GRADE: D

Rated R: for sexual content, nudity, language and some violence

Running time: 115 minutes

On Hulu