Combustible Celluloid
Own it:
With: Peter Gallagher, Alison Elliott, Joe Don Baker, Elisabeth Shue, William Fichtner, Paul Dooley, Shelley Duvall, Anjanette Comer, Adam Trese
Written by: "Sam Lowry" (Steven Soderbergh), Daniel Fuchs, based on a novel by Don Tracy
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
MPAA Rating: R for some violence, language and sexuality
Running Time: 99
Date: 04/28/1995

The Underneath (1995)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Loot of Armored

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Steven Soderbergh's The Underneath is a solid, but unremarkable neo-noir, a remake of Robert Siodmak's Criss Cross (1949), starring Burt Lancaster, and both movies based on the novel by Don Tracy. If I had seen it in 1995, it might have appeared as evidence of Soderbergh's downturn after his remarkable debut sex, lies & videotape (1989). But seen today, in 2021, it's more like a quick pit stop on his long, varied, and impressive career. Certainly it doesn't have the unique style that Soderbergh applied to his crime films Out of Sight and The Limey just a few years later. He was still learning.

Peter Gallagher, of sex, lies & videotape, stars as Michael Chambers, a big-time gambler who returns to his hometown for his mother's wedding. Previously, he skipped town, running away from a massive debt, and left his wife Rachel (Alison Elliott) behind. Now he's apparently all settled up, and his mother's new husband, the kind, avuncular Ed (Paul Dooley), offers him a job driving armored cars. But after Michael discovers that Rachel is mixed up with a psychotic gangster (William Fichtner), he plans a heist to get her out. What could go wrong?

Soderbergh structures the movie in three interwoven time frames, showing the past (with a bearded Michael), the present, and the heist itself, told with slightly shimmying camerawork and time-stamps on the screen. Otherwise, Soderbergh provides the material with a certain steely quality, and even while it whizzes right past some of the more absurd plot developments, it's efficient, craftsmanlike filmmaking. One of the more notable sequences has Michael lying in a hospital bed, woozy from painkillers, and the room decorated in surreal, slanted lines.

Anjanette Comer plays Michael's kind mother, Adam Trese plays his obnoxious brother, a cop; Joe Don Baker is the manager of the armored car company; Elisabeth Shue plays a sweet, girl-next-door who unwisely throws her lot in with Michael; and, for some reason, Shelley Duvall is in one scene as a nurse. (Look also for filmmaker Richard Linklater, who appears as the doorman of a nightclub.) Soderbergh wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym "Sam Lowry" (presumably after Jonathan Pryce's character from Terry Gilliam's great Brazil), and original screenwriter Daniel Fuchs, who died in 1993, is also credited.

Kino Lorber's 2021 good-looking Blu-ray release comes with 2.0 and 5.1 audio mixes, a new commentary track by film historian/critic Peter Tonguette, and a batch of trailers.

Movies Unlimtied