In Which Billy Goes (In)Zane

A while back, of a Saturday evening, I got a strange hankering to watch some ‘sun, sea and sand’ type movies, by way of marking the passing of the English summer, and after dismissing such usual suspects as Club Dread, the first Scooby-Do movie and a couple of others I won’t name in case you no longer respect me tomorrow morning (assuming you respect me now, of course), I zeroed in on two films that both contain sun and sea, but not sand, and also feature big yachts and the actor Billy Zane losing his marbles.

That was an awfully long sentence.

Dead Calm (1989)

After the death of their child, Sam Neill takes wife Nicole Kidman on a long sea cruise aboard their private yacht, but then they come across a becalmed vessel. Only survivor Billy Zane claims that illness killed everybody but him, only Sam doesn’t fall for that, and so while Billy is locked up in a cabin sleeping he rows over to check out the derelict. Sam’s suspicions are on the money, as all the crew and passengers have been murdered, but before he can get back Billy overpowers Nicole and sails off into the sunset. The rest of the film consists of Nicole using all her cunning and strength to stay alive and/or render Billy harmless, while Sam has to repair the damaged yacht and give chase.

Over twenty years since I saw this at the cinema, and I’m happy to say that it stands up. With the claustrophobic atmosphere of the yacht’s below decks adding another dimension, it’s a tasty three hander, each cast member playing their part to perfection. Neill is perhaps the least interesting, though still well drawn: a naval officer (hence his facility with boats) and staunch family man, doing his best to help his wife recover from a terrible tragedy, the epitome of the ‘strong, silent type’, though he has plenty to say when it’s necessary. Kidman emotes misery convincingly at the start of the film, and you can see how she comes out of herself as the story progresses, digging deep to find the strength and willpower to do whatever needs doing to survive and save the life of her man. In a sense it seems as if she has been given a second chance, a way to make amends for the loss of her child by saving her husband’s life. And then there’s Billy, a sweaty, wild-eyed lunatic of the old school, somebody devoted to ‘having fun’ and on a hair trigger, ready to explode at the first sign reality won’t fall in with his wishes, taking umbrage at Sam not believing his story, even though he is lying (but maybe in his mind his version of events is entirely accurate). These three play out the hands they’re given, the plot piling on the tension through a number of carefully calculated moves – Sam trapped below decks as the yacht floods, Nicole attempting to seduce Billy, the false kills at the end. It’s a great little movie, one that doesn’t have any ambition except to entertain, and does that undeniably well.

Three (2005)

This time around Billy is a rich guy and married to Kelly Brook, but he still goes mad. The couple and their friends are off on a cruise aboard a luxury yacht, taking time out from fishing and lounging around in swimwear for a little recreational S&M. They don’t like deckhand Manuel (Juan Pablo Di Pace), understandably so as they saw him slap his pregnant girlfriend before the ship left dock. Unfortunately said girlfriend is a witch and whips up a storm that wrecks the yacht. Kelly and her bikini are washed ashore on a desert island, where they are joined by hot, young stud Juan, who isn’t that bad once you get past the whole slapping women thing, and the inevitable takes place, as they say in all the problem page letters. But then Billy also washes up, and the air becomes saturated with testosterone, as the girlfriend sacrifices another cockerel to Baron Samedi, or whoever, and jealousy takes its toll.

An academic could probably make a case for this film being about macho posturing and an ironic, post-modern commentary on double standards and gender stereotypes, with the two men competing for Kelly’s favours like junkyard dogs scrapping over a bone. There’s even a subtext about class warfare, with poor Juan versus wealthy Billy. Whether the aforesaid academic could keep a straight face while putting forward such arguments is another matter entirely. Whatever subtexts there might be are all tediously obvious and uninteresting, while the supernatural element adds absolutely nothing and I can’t imagine why they felt the need to inflict it on viewers at all (a desperate measure to rope in the horror demographic perhaps). Billy is the best of the three actors, but he doesn’t seem to be trying hard, while Kelly and Juan have to do little more than look buff and say their lines, which they manage rather well, but so what.

The UK DVD cover gives the game away as far as the intended audience of this film is concerned – a picture of La Brook in a bikini clutching a phallic spear, beneath which is the tag line ‘KELLY FINALLY BARES ALL IN THIS EROTIC THRILLER’ (and, as a small point of order, Kelly does not bare all – truth in advertising, people). Big Pete is indignant at such an obvious pitch for the sad wanker demographic, while Little Pete sniggers gleefully at having duped the big guy into another pointless purchase. As far as the ‘erotic thriller’ label goes, there aren’t many thrills and, while there’s plenty of flesh on show, Brook’s display all seems a little obvious and ‘look at me’ compared to the restrained, understated performance given by Kidman in Dead Calm.

The true star of the film is Kelly’s white bikini. Despite being worn continually for, presumably, weeks on end, it remains pristine (somebody should patent the material). It also has the power to teleport – Kelly strips off for some skinny dipping with Juan, but when she emerges from the waves she is wearing her bikini bottom (perhaps the editor was so entranced by the sight of Kelly’s swaying breasts as she walked up the beach he or she forgot to look further down and missed this glaring continuity error).

Okay, we’re done. It’s late and I need to get my head down, as tomorrow I’m going to the ballet.

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