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'Underwater' review: Deep-sea drama is an absolute mess

Kristen Stewart stars as Norah in "Underwater."

Kristen Stewart stars as Norah in "Underwater." Credit: Twentieth Century Fox/Alan Markfield

(zero stars)

PLOT The crew of a deep-sea drilling rig comes under attack by an unknown creature.

CAST Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, Jessica Henwick

RATED PG-13 (bloody violence)

LENGTH 1:35

BOTTOM LINE "Alien" knock-off No. 963 traps its cast in a deep-sea story as lifeless as the Mariana Trench.

Kristen Stewart must have a terrific sense of humor to show up in "Underwater," a tenth-rate sci-fi-horror flick, sporting a bristly blonde buzz cut, sports bra and little else. As Norah, a mechanical engineer for the collapsing Kepler Station on the ocean floor, Stewart cuts an odd figure, somewhere between Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in "Alien" and the American soccer champ Brandi Chastain. As her fellow crewmember Paul (T.J. Miller) puts it when Norah rescues him from a pile of rubble: "You sweet, flat-chested, elfin creature!"

Stewart doesn't bat an eye (few of the actors here ever do) but Miller's remark says a lot about this movie, namely that it has no idea what it's trying to be and might as well admit it. "Underwater" is such an unimaginative rip-off of so many other movies that it doesn't bother to pretend otherwise, choosing instead to slog forward through one familiar disaster-scenario after another. It's "Alien" in the ocean, "Deepwater Horizon" in deeper water, "The Meg" with a different Meg.

The opening-credit news clippings — "countless hazards," "high risks" — are a foreshadowing of non-specific thrills to come. The Kepler Station is connected to the Roebuck drill, which has apparently roused a sea monster. The creature looks exactly like the old Alien – curved head, tentacles, slime – except when it doesn't and turns into a humanoid from the Black Lagoon. "We drilled too deep!" laments one character, placing the blame on humanity, "Godzilla"-style.

Our heroes gear up in futuristic diving armor (what year is this?) with unexplained blaster weapons to travel across the ocean floor to a safe haven. Accompanying Norah and Paul are knock-kneed Emily (Jessica Henwick), amiable Smith (John Gallagher Jr.), brave Lucien (Vincent Cassel) and ineffectual Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie). The suits obscure their faces, making it hard to tell one stock character from another. I would have appreciated a helpful placard hung around each neck: "Comic Relief," "Noble Martyr," "I'll Never Make It."

Incoherently directed by William Eubank and scored by Marco Beltrami at a deafening, desperate volume, "Underwater" is an absolute mess, intelligible only if you've seen so many movies like it that you already know how it's supposed to go. I can't resist a parting shot: It's "Abyss"-mal. 

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