Deep Gold

Deep Gold

Film review by: Witney Seibold


          I saw Michael Gleissner’s “Deep Gold” on the final day of its several-week run at the Bigfoot Crest in Westwood, CA. If you live in the area, you may have seen posters for “Deep Gold” in storefront windows and at bus stops. If not, it’s likely you’ve never heard of it. “Deep Gold” is a small-budget actioner that only played in theaters because the producer owned the theater where it played, giving him free reign to book whatever films he wanted. I actually kind of admire this mini-monopoly model. It reminds me of a time when theater owners had more leeway to book whatever they could get their hands on, and local filmmakers and hard-working hawkers could shop around to local theaters and get small distribution. This model gave birth to B-Movie madhouses and well-worn grindhouses for decades.

          You see, there was a time when big studios owned all their own theaters, and would book whatever projects they felt needed hyping. Sometime in the late 1940s, such a practice was made illegal, and, as a distant result, the Grindhouse was born. Starting in the mid-1970s, however, with the advent of “Jaws,” films started being released nationwide, all at once, on the same day. The Grindhouse started to shrivel up, and now we live in the era of the nationwide multiplex. So it was kind of a down-home exploitative thrill to see a clunky, dumb vanity project like “Deep Gold” on the big screen at my neighborhood theater. It gives me the hopeful idea that, as theaters struggle against internet entertainment and cable TV, and movie theaters feel the need to diversify to compete, more hard-working theater entrepreneurs will turn to smaller business models, and grindhouses will spring up once again.

          As a film, sadly, there’s not a lot to distinguish “Deep Gold” from any run-of-the-mill PG-13-rated action flick from the late 1980s or early 1990s. It did a heck of a lot with its low budget, making it look slick and professional even when there were clearly limitations, but its story and characters are flat and bland, and its actors were all clearly hired for their good looks and taut, swimsuit-ready bodies, rather than their stirring abilities to emote. What I appreciated from “Deep Gold” was its utter earnestness; this is not a cynical film that is trying to riff on genre conventions, nor is it a cheap-looking and heartless cashgrab from a mobster trying to launder money. Gleissner was trying to make something spectacular. And, in certain sequences, he succeeded.

          The film follows Amy Sanchez (Vietnamese model Bebe Pham), as she competes in a deep-diving competition in her Filipino hometown of Cebu. Pham is piquant and lunkheaded and perfectly sexy and perfectly boring. She riffs with her dull boyfriend, bound for a secret Air Force mission, and her water-fearing sister Jess (Jaymee Ong), who is eager to wear a bikini. They fight with their fat Chinese landlord, who is a racist caricature.

          The plane that Amy’s boyfriend was flying contained a shipment of recently-discovered Filipino gold, and when it crashes (as it inevitably must; planes flying big shipments of gold never make it to the destination safely), it’s up to Amy to find the crash site, dive down to the wreckage, and see if her boyfriend is still alive, if he stole the gold or if he’s legitimately dead, and the gold it there to be salvaged. Much of the film is Amy and Jess investigating, “Scooby-Doo” style, the local waters and potential crash sites. They even manage to assemble a scrappy team including the Eurotrash reporters Benny (Gleissner) and his pretty blonde wife Claire (Amelia Jackson-Gray). They also have the support of the weirdly MacGyver-ish trance-music enthusiast and local DJ Lulu (Laury Prudent) who is feisty and resourceful, who seems to wear less and less as the film progresses, and who not only has access to a remote lighthouse-slash-broadcasting station, but a collection of gadgets and boats and knickknacks that she assembles herself. She has so many easy solutions, and is so eager to help our heroines, she plays like a walking deus ex machina. The five of them head out to sea to look for the crashed ship, the military close behind. I don’t think I was the only one to notice that the film’s producer/director stuck himself on a boat with four hotties in bikinis.


          Of course there are secrets and double-crosses. There is mysterious group of criminals also after the gold, and there’s an inexplicable scene in a library where a bunch of thugs trash the place trying to kill Amy. Amy’s not a fighter, but manages to give them the slip, and do fancy backflips over flying tables. I hate to see libraries trashed in movies; I felt bad for the poor librarian who had to pick all that stuff up. There was another action scene that kind of defied the laws of physics, or perhaps employed a magic bullet. How else to explain how a driver of a convertible, who is driving away from a street-level gunman, can be shot in the stomach?

          The dialogue in the film is terse and utilitarian, and delivered with a wooden passion. “I have to clear my boyfriend’s name!” “Our dad is dead, Amy!” “You’ll never get away with this!” “What you need is a depth meter! Luckily, I can build one!” There is not an ounce of wit, or even natural human behavior. For some viewers, though (viewers like me), there can be a certain charm to bad acting. They may not be emoting well, those actors, but they can really sell a part.


          “Deep Gold” was released in 3-D, and it was some of the worst 3-D I have ever seen. Not only was the picture dimmer (as 3-D typically does), but the backgrounds and foregrounds would shift dramatically throughout a scene. If someone was in a bright white outfit, it would spring forward in front of everything, making you go a little cross-eyed. There was also a genuinely exciting underwater fight scene late in the film that was so blue and murky, I had to take off my 3-D glasses just to see what was going on. It turns out that you didn’t need glasses for that scene.


          But that “Deep Gold” was released in 3-D only adds to its mismanaged, down-home appeal. It’s not a good film, “Deep Gold,” but it’s scrappy, and it’s got a lotta heart. I’m not sure if you’ll get the same effect on home video, as it will look like just about any straight-to-video actioner with dumb action conceits, weird action-free stretches, and bad actors who look good in bikinis. But if you can agree with the earnestness, you may get a little thrill from it.

          Oh, here’s something fun: The film ends without all the loose ends being tied up. To cover all the dangling plot threads, Gleissner hired the actual mayor of Cebu, Tommy Osmeña, to act in a staged, over-the-credits TV interview, where he explains everything that happened with the missing gold and the missing plane. Can’t you just imagine the exchange? “I want to shoot in your town, Mr. Mayor.” “That’s all well and good, but I dunno.” “Tell you what: You can be in the movie!” “Oo. Who will I play?” “You can play yourself, and explain all the important stuff!” “Deal!”

Director/producer/potential B-movie entrepreneur, Michael Gleissner.

          B-movie bliss.

Mayor of Cebu, and B-Movie supporting actor, Tommy Osmena.

Published in: on May 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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