'Water': Fizzles Instead Of Fizzes

Posted: May 27, 1986

"Water." A comedy starring Michael Caine, Valerie Perrine, Brenda Vaccaro and Leonard Rossiter. Directed by Dick Clement from a screenplay by Ian La Frenais, Bill Persky and Clement. Photographed by Douglas Slocombe. Edited by John Victor Smith. Music by Mike Moran. Running time: 91 minutes. An Atlantic release. At the Mark I, 19th and Market Sts.

The British film industry remains dead and buried, despite a huffing, puffing periodic attempt to revive it.

In the past few years, this cause has produced a batch of films that, at best, can be called "curious": The impressive films ("The Long Good Friday," "A Private Function" and "The Missionary"), as well as the overrated ("Chariots of Fire," "Dance with a Stranger" and "Time Bandits"), share a certain self-hatred that rarely proves to be rewarding.

Not that these films have been without admirable elements, least of all good acting. It's just that this nagging, masochistic edge keeps getting in the way. Without it, I am certain, all of these films would have been substantially better.

Consider, for example, "Water," an antic comedy about eccentric Brits doing incorrigible things. What amounts to nothing more than another roast could have been a crackling good comedy about turning lemons into lemonade - or, in this case, water into sparkling water, one with "a natural effervescence, a lemony flavor."

Set on Cascara, a Caribbean island held by the British, "Water" is about the isle's laid-back, pot-smoking governor (Michael Caine) who just wants to be left alone (by both his bosses and his shrill wife, Brenda Vaccaro) to sleep in the sun as his island gets by without help from Mother England.

His superiors, who would like to be rid of it, pretty much ignore the place, and Caine, for all his shrugging attitude, resents it.

Matters start bubbling, literally, when an abandoned oil rig suddenly erupts with a clear, sparkling liquid. "We've struck Perrier!," someone rejoices. Cascara starts jumping with activity and Caine's life just isn't the same any more.

Wacky characters abound (including Valerie Perrine as an ecologist studying bats, Dennis Dugan as a twerp promoting "designer water," Fred Gwynn as an oil tycoon and the late Leonard Rossiter as a bureaucratic Brit type), invading Cascara. They bring a lot of self-conscious lunacy to go along with the usual anti-British, Ugly American political satire.

And what promised to be something as good as going on a tiny vacation, as refreshing as, yes, bottled water, turns sour and stale.

Parental Guide: Rated PG-13 for a few double-entendres.

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