Appellate Judge Dan Mancini liked Jennifer Beals better when she was a Steel-Town girl on a Saturday night, lookin' for the fight of her life.
How much would you pay for your child's life?
As Troubled Waters opens, F.B.I. agents surround a little ranch-style home. Inside a kidnapper holds a little girl. When the agents storm the house, shots are fired, and the standoff ends in tragedy. In flashback, we meet F.B.I. Special Agent Beck (Jennifer Beals, The L Word). She's on the hunt for Megan Waters (Olivia Ballantine, Samantha: An American Girl Holiday), a little girl kidnapped from her seemingly idyllic suburban home. Beck is the emotionally troubled, migraine-suffering sort of criminal profiler who either has prodigious instincts or psychic powers. It turns out that things in the Waters household aren't as rosy as they appear. Mike Waters' (David Storch, Seeds of Doubt) business partner Ben Tomlinson (Stuart Hughes, Where the Truth Lies) isn't just involved in corporate perfidy, he's also sleeping with Mrs. Waters (Shauna Black, Cold Creek Manor). Beck's investigation will lead us back to the beginning of the movie, clarifying the tragedy we witnessed.
At the center of Troubled Waters is a mildly interesting mystery easily solvable with solid police work. Fortunately for the characters in the picture (and unfortunately for us), solid police work isn't necessary. All they need is for Agent Beck to touch a lace curtain or bedspread or cordless phone and the hidden aspects of the crime spring to life in stylish black-and-white. But even armed with psychic powers that generate vivid audio/video replays of the crime, the feds can't break the case wide open before we, the audience, can: They don't have the luxury of scene after scene of grossly expository dialogue between the various guilty parties, nor did they see the face of the kidnapper before the crime took place. Troubled Waters is a sorry piece of screenwriting, its plot and dialogue cobbled together from clichés, shortcuts, and cheats stolen from any of the seemingly dozens of psychic-profiler or hyper-expository forensics TV shows like Profiler or CSI. Making the lazy and tired writing even worse is a twist ending that is as obvious as it is insulting to the audience's intelligence. But how could there not be an unsurprising surprise ending in a film that, in its first two minutes, gives away nearly every other mystery it harbors?
The over-written dialogue rescues first-time screenwriter David Robbeson from the burdens of plot logic, but wreaks havoc with the actors, who struggle to bring life to material on par with the reenactments on true crime shows like American Justice. Jennifer Beals and Stuart Hughes are the only of the movie's actors who manage any degree of naturalism. Beals' performance suffers, though, from the absolute lameness of the constant mopery brought on by the emotional turmoil of trying to use her supernatural gift/curse for the good of humanity, and by her grab-the-nearest-piece-of-furniture vertiginous flashes of psychic information. It's all stuff we've seen a million times in other shows, even though it was old and broke-down almost the instant the concept of the psychic-profiler was minted.
The movie appears to have been shot on mid-range digital equipment, not film. The image is flat and lifeless, without character. Color is drab; detail is weak. Adding to the mediocrity of the source is a DVD transfer plagued by creeping artifacts like aliasing and moiré. It ain't pretty.
The audio track is mixed so unimaginatively that it's only nominally Dolby 5.1. I didn't watch the entire flick with my ears pressed against various speakers, but I'm relatively certain that all dialogue and 99.5 percent of the sound effects are located entirely in the center speaker. The score and whooshing effects associated with Beck's psychic flashes is the only sound that finds its way to the stereo and surround speakers. Functionally, the track isn't much more than a single-channel mono job—pretty pathetic for a feature produced in 2006.
Supplements include a theatrical trailer for Troubled Waters and a 17-minute behind the scenes featurette.
Troubled Waters is a film whose makers thought it clever to name it Troubled Waters because it's about the criminal dysfunction of a family of Waterses. It's that lame. As a crime film, it's about as smart and sophisticated as your average Cinemax erotic thriller, but without the allure of scads of dry humping. Poor Jennifer Beals.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Troubled Waters: Behind the Scenes
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