DVD Review: Into the Blue 2: The Reef (2009)

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What begins like an advertisement for an all-new Hawaiian edition of Girls Gone Wild or an extended special of MTV's Spring Break-- complete with a wet t-shirt contest-- surprisingly evolves into an exceptionally taut thriller for the film's last hour. Admirably, director Stephen Herek's direct-to-DVD sequel to Jessica Alba and Paul Walker's original Into the Blue turns into an oceanic version of a Tom Clancy novel, minus the submarines and the whole Hunt for Red October thing.

Moving the action from the original's setting of the Bahamas to Honolulu-- we're presented with a familiar set-up of a young couple in-love whose passion for the sea is equal to their passion for one another. However, and just like the previous film-- while the young female character assures her boyfriend that she's happy with life just the way it is-- the “dive-bum” male character longs to discover his own (hopefully) large portion of the estimable six billion dollar treasure that has yet to be salvaged from the floor of the ocean.

Although the sequel is missing the charm of Scott Caan as well as the sly villain in Josh Brolin-- it does benefit from its effective main ensemble casting as unlike the beautiful yet under-written character Alba brought to life in the first film, her successor Laura Vandervoort's heroine Dani proves to be a more than capable professional diver, running the scuba business as an owner and boss whose sole employee-- Chris Carmack's Sebastian, incidentally happens to be her long-term live-in boyfriend.

True to the formula, we have an irresponsible friend although the instantly unappealing flirtatious party-boy Mace seems to be a poor substitute for the original. But luckily, a plot soon develops that makes all of the ridiculous, over-the-top, and roll-your-eyes exploitation of endless gratuitous shots of topless women, a lame beach volleyball scene (that makes the one in Top Gun look like a well-choreographed fight scene from Rocky), and one-dimensional second string characters like the obnoxious dive-master and owner of the boat the Stud Muffin (yeah, I didn't think anyone still used that phrase either) much easier to bear.

The winds of change for the film begin with the arrival of our effortlessly cool yet intense, wealthy foreign vacationers-- Carlton (David Anders) and Azra (Marsha Thomason). Just as eager as Sebastian is to dive for sunken treasure-- it doesn't take Dani very long to sense that something is slightly off about the pair and her worst fear is realized when they make a discovery under the sea that goes beyond her suspicions as well as the audiences' as the admittedly forgettable film suddenly grows into one dynamite episode of 24 when our main characters predictably find their lives threatened as they're split up into an impossible situation.

Furthermore, with this Nick of Time like set-up, Into the Blue: The Reef makes you forgive the most likely marketing mandated over-abundance of skin, spin, and laughably Hollywood hedonism that populated the film's first thirty minutes to make the most of its sexy “unrated” status as, at last the script finally gives director Stephen Herek (Mr.Holland's Opus, Three Musketeers) a chance to show what he can do with action, delivering first rate entertainment in a film without the budget or schedule of the first movie by paying homage to Run Lola Run with an extended foot-chase sequence that helps ratchet up the tension.

Ultimately offering its heroine the best role of the movie-- despite the fact that charisma-wise, Carmack manages to emote much better than the first Blue and Fast and the Furious star Paul Walker-- while as a whole, the first film is still superior since its tone and quality was consistent throughout, the sequel earns bonus points for believability for accurately depicting the precautions, dangers, and beauty of underwater adventure.

For, instead of shots that go on forever as magically the characters in the previous film could hold their breaths longer than a dozen magicians-- this film takes great pains in trying to show us how divers communicate with signals, the importance of tanks, and safety first.

In “Get Wet”--a great behind-the-scenes featurette wherein the actors reveal their unfamiliarity with the process of diving as they all had to obtain scuba certification in a breakneck schedule that made the performers study and work twice as fast as most new to the sport, we earn a genuine respect for how much effort went into the film from not just the training of the cast-mates (including the hilarious Thomason who gives off the impression she could be Spice Girls' Melanie Brown's long-lost little sister) but the crew members themselves who filmed the movie underwater and ensured that it would look its best with high definition cinematography.

Making a conscious effort to shoot in areas in Honolulu that aren't typically seen on film, Herek—who directed all underwater action from aboard a boat via a monitor-- employed a talented local crew who knew how to capture the beauty of Hawaii's coral reef which is one of the only things that manages to convince most female viewers to avoid fast-forwarding through the film's skanky men's magazine like beginning to the point where the compelling, internationally timely and surprising Three Kings meets Broken Arrow style storyline develops.

And refreshingly overall-- having showed enough nudity to outweigh any slight hint of feminism-- additionally, it makes the film's female characters just as much-- if not more fully realized and fascinatingly written than the typical male “heroes.” So, flaws and all-- there's treasure to be found in The Reef if you don't mind diving through quite a bit of muck to get there.