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New Line Home Cinema presents

Head Above Water (1997)

"Just because you're married doesn't mean you're dead."- Kent (Billy Zane)

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Harvey Keitel, Craig Sheffer
Other Stars: Billy Zane, Shay Duffin
Director: Jim Wilson

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some moments of strong violence
Run Time: 01h:32m:09s
Release Date: 2004-06-01
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+B+B D-


DVD Review

Here's another example of a film that is being marketed terribly, an observation based solely on the DVD cover art. Next to a smiling, unnaturally cleavage-induced Cameron Diaz, and beneath the equally smiling heads of Harvey Keitel, Craig Sheffer, and Billy Zane, we have the tagline calling the film "a comedy about keeping your ex-lover a secret, your husband in the dark, and your head above water."

What the hell?

Based on that, I had very little hope of finding anything likeable about this Jim Wilson-directed film, because to my eye it looked as if it were going to be yet another tired romantic comedy trading on the implied girl-next-door appeal of Diaz (that is if you live next door to a cute, rail-thin actress).

The problem is that Head Above Water is actually one of those roguish dark comedies where bad things happen exponentially, and since the cast plays it pretty straight for the first half of the film, the whole thing kind of drags you along like a hungry cat lugging a dead mouse in its maw, and by the time people are doing uncharacteristic things you just don't care. Nathalie (Diaz) is a cute young thing—and former pill-popper—married to significantly older Superior Court judge George (Keitel), and the loving couple plan a romantic retreat to her family vacation home on a private island somewhere off the coast of Maine.

To make things even more cozy, Nathalie's childhood pal Lance (Sheffer) acts as a caretaker on the island, and though they treat each other like brother and sister, it's obvious there are some long repressed sexual urges popping up periodically. When former lover Kent (Billy Zane), who isn't so shy about his feelings for Nathalie, rowboats ashore with flowers and candy, while Lance and George are on a fishing trip, the sexual dynamics are notched up another rung just before things start to go horribly wrong.

I haven't exactly been bowled over in the past by Diaz as an actress (not counting her initial onscreen appearance in The Mask in that slinky dress—WOW!), but she tackles the role of the troubled young wife with a fair degree of sometimes unlikable immature realism, second only to Sheffer, who contributes probably one of his most even-keeled performances, not counting his signature turn in one of the most vastly underrated horror films of recent years, Nightbreed. Keitel is, well, Keitel. He's not exactly the Bad Lieutenant here, but he gets to go off the deep end by the third act, falling somewhere to the left of Pulp Fiction's Mr. Wolf.

This one has a small cast—there's really only five speaking parts in the entire film—and its easy to see this one living life as a stage play, as one of those "dead body in the window box" kind of stories. The wacky antics grow progressively more twisted as things unfold, and even if I didn't totally buy all the character shifts, I'll admit to being entertained. As a film, the plot translates handily to its island setting, with the interplay between Diaz, Sheffer, Keitel, and Zane built on a solid foundation of natural flowing dialogue, at least until certain players are revealed to be something they're not.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and New Line has come through with yet another snappy looking disc. The print itself is very clean, devoid of any substantive defects, and is filled with bright colors (check out the blues of the sky) and equally well-rendered fleshtones. Image detail is sharp, with no visible compression issues or artifacting.


Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in either 2.0 stereo surround or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The differences between the two tracks is negligible at best, but the separation on the 5.1 mix comes across as slightly more expansive. No real rear channel action to speak of on either track, but dialogue is clear and discernible on both at all times.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Mask, Unconditional Love
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No extras to be found here other than a couple of trailers and some DVD-ROM accessible weblinks. The disc is cut into 20 chapters, and features optional English or Spanish subtitles.

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

My expectations were gutter-dipping low on this one, and I came away won over by this dark comedy from director Jim Wilson. Head Above Water pretty moves dangerously into purely farce territory during its final act, but the always watchable Harvey Keitel gets to ham it up a little as a high ranking judge looking to save his own bacon.


Rich Rosell 2004-10-28