Friday, September 15, 2017

Wetlands: Getting Noirish on the Jersey Shore

Let’s take an outing to Atlantic City, where the surfing is mediocre and Trump lost dumpster trucks full of money in the casino business. Signing on with the police force wouldn’t be much of a career move for a former hotshot Philadelphia cop, but Babel “Babs” Johnson was lucky to get the gig. He wants to rebuild his life, but rampant corruption and a brewing storm do not cooperate in Emanuele Della Valle’s Wetlands (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

We never learn what precisely went down in Philly, but it obviously involved drugs. Johnson is now clean-ish and used the last of his connections to join the AC force, in order to be near Amy, the daughter he lost all visitation rights for. His ex-wife Savanah will not cut him any slack, even though she is still a hot mess party girl herself. Frankly, her lesbian lover, “Surfer Girl,” represents the only stability in Amy’s life, even though she also happens to be pushing drugs on the beach for the local syndicate.

Johnson wants to shut their operation down, but his mobbed-up chief won’t have any of that. He sort of has an ally in his new partner, compulsive gambler Paddy Sheehan, but it is Sheehan’s wife, news anchor Kate, who is really in Johnson’s corner (and in his bed). Naturally, everything comes to a head as the storm of the century of the year bears down on the Jersey shore.

Wetlands is part noir and part character study, but all kinds of moody. Frankly, the Johnson family soap opera gets a little tiresome after the fiftieth awkward encounter between the cop, his ex-wife, and her girlfriend. However, Della Valla earns credit for drawing some vivid characters. Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje is always tightly restrained and inner-focused as Johnson, but his angst-ridden performance is often downright harrowing to behold. Heather Graham de-glams more than she ever has prior as the earthy ex-wife. As always, it is great fun to watch Christopher MacDonald do his roguish thing—and a cat like Det. Sheehan is dead-smack in the center of his power zone. Yet, it is Jennifer Ehle who is a revelatory scene-stealer as the disillusioned but still seductive Kate Sheehan.

There are plot holes bigger than the former Trump Taj Mahal in Wetlands, but we can overlook them for the sake of watching Akinnouye-Agbaje play off MacDonald and Ehle. Della Valle also captures the eerie calm feeling as a major storm approaches. This film will definitely bring back memories of the lead up to Sandy and the weirdly uncertain aftermath, at least amongst those who fortunately were not seriously impacted. It is definitely ragged around the edges, but Wetlands is still worth checking out eventually, but feel safe in waiting for less expensive VOD options. Recommended down the road for Jersey Noir fans, Wetlands opens today (9/15) in New York, at the Landmark Sunshine downtown and the AMC Empire in Midtown.