RATING |

Black Sea is a submarine thriller set in the murky depths of exactly where the title says.

Off the Crimean coast, a German U-boat has been lodged in the seabed since World War II, its crew turned to gnarly skeletons, its creaking hull full of gold - $182 million worth, adjusting for inflation. Just think what those "We Buy Your Gold" guys on Jewelers' Row will do when you cart two tons of the stuff into their store.

A crazy, claustrophobic mix of Das Boot and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with a little bit of Moby Dick thrown in for good measure (Moby Dick if it had been directed by British socialist filmmaker Ken Loach), Black Sea stars Jude Law as a disgruntled Scottish marine-salvage man. Once, he was gruntled - a wife and a kid, a good job - but because he devoted too much time to the latter, the formers packed up and left. Then the company where he worked for 11 years, after stinting in the Royal Navy for at least that many beforehand, lays him off.

Down at the pub, he and his mates plot revenge. What better than lugging Nazi bullion up to the surface before their old employer can get to it?

All they need is a submarine - and a crew.

A mothballed Soviet vessel is found in Sebastapol and deemed worthy once they've mopped the poop decks, dusted the dials, and checked the torpedo tubes for old girlie magazines. As for the crew, how about a mismatched team of motley Brits and skittish Russians - all the better for their inability to communicate without an interpreter, and all the better for the mental arithmetic they start doing when Law's Capt. Robinson declares that their bounty will be split in equal shares? The fewer crew members, the bigger the payout. Hmmm.

With madness in his eyes and whiskers on his face, Law recruits a simpleminded teenager (Karl Davies) as a gofer/protégé. He also enlists a psychotic veteran diver (Ben Mendelsohn) because, well, he's the best diver there is, and because we'll need a raging paranoid to stir up the kind of trouble necessary to ensure that nothing on the mission goes right.

With creepy sound effects (thuds and clangs and groans, oh my) and a mounting - make that sinking - sense of dread, Black Sea is at once fist-clenchingly suspenseful and, well, dull. I'm not sure exactly how director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) managed this dubious achievement. Perhaps it was just his overzealous quest for verisimilitude. Anyone who has spent long stretches in a giant steel submersible, motoring through thickets of kelp, with sharks shimmying in the propeller wake, will tell you the real danger in the fathoms is tedium.

Black Sea *** (Out of four stars)

Directed by Kevin Macdonald. With Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn,

Scoot McNairy, Grigoriy Dobrygin. Distributed by Focus Features.

Running time: 1 hour, 55 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, adult themes).

Playing at: Area theaters.EndText

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