"Don't Watch This"

In the words of Aimée Baker's recurring blog feature, Don't watch this.

The Underneath
dir. Steven Soderberg, 1995

Although I love most Soderberg films, this one just never captured me. It begins with a spliced-up narrative jumping quickly between the end of the film and the beginning of the film, but nothing is really happening in either instance, so you can't feel like Soderberg's giving you any compelling reasons to stay on board.

Peter Gallagher's eyebrows get star billing in this film, with his lips providing some unique supporting performances. Elisabeth Shue, Paul Dooley, and Joe Don Baker seem to do everything they can think of to tame the wild eyebrows, but to no avail. They just aren't as interesting.

The dialogue is quiet, stilted. The performances are, by and large, wooden. You can see Soderberg playing with the ideas that will later come to fruition in the classics Traffic (color-saturated film stock) and Out of Sight (jump cuts, sensual cinematography, and appropriation of the noir tradition), but here, nothing comes together cohesively to make the film consistent or enjoyable.

Let's just say I wasn't encouraged to look too far "underneath" the surface of this film, which is a purported remake of the noir classic "Criss Cross." Soderberg is lightyears better when doing his own stuff.


  1. Yeouch! Good to know. Mercy buckets for sparing two hours of my life which would otherwise be gone forever.

    Where are you with 2005's Bubble? Now that was a mighty kooky little piece of filmmaking—hard to believe it's the same man who made Erin Brockovitch (but not The Limey).

  2. I made the unfortunate choice of watching Bubble on like a first or second date with a guy, on video at home. It was weird! I had higher expectations. Mostly it felt like a low-budget student film. Although it was sufficiently creepy, it didn't really deliver what it could have.

  3. Um, yeah, not really a date movie, that one. As when I took my death-crush to go see (this would be in the late 80s, obviously)....The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Disastrous choice.

    Bubble, agreed, is almost like something Soderbergh made during a vacation; but you gotta admit, those disembodied doll heads stay with you for a looong time.

    And now you're in shoutin' distance of the trashy Regal (where I worked for exactly one night sweeping up popcorn), the once-cool Avalon, and my long-ago fave the Jenifer, which is closed now. It was on Wisconsin Ave and had these amazing paintings of cherubim and ribbons on the ceiling. I saw Thelma & Louise there, the first movie I'd ever been to alone, and it blew my tiny parochial mind.

  4. Oops--it's the Avalon that has the cool painted ceiling--and it's not a ribbon floating toward the cherub, it's a reel of film! Happy sigh.