In the 80’s we had two kinds of movies…those with Michael Caine and those without Michael Caine. At times, it seemed like the later category was the smaller one. From winning and Oscar for “Hannah and Her Sister” to “Jaws: The Revenge,” and everything in between, you could always count on Caine. That includes today’s film, a small British comedy produced by George Harrison’s company, Handmade Films. It’s 1985’s “Water.”
The film centers on Baxter Thwaites (Caine), the Governor of Cascara, a British colony in the Caribbean. The island is almost completely inhabited by the descendants of shipwreck survivors, it is also pretty much forgotten by the British government. Life is nice for Baxter, except for having to deal with his demanding wife, Dolores (Brenda Vaccaro), and the occasional disruption of the peace by the two-man Cascara Liberation Front, led by the “singing rebel” Delgado (Billy Connolly).
Then, all at once, some interesting things begin to happen. First, activity begins to happen around the island’s abandoned oil rig. A crew from an oil company, led by Rob Waring (Dennis Dugan), begins poking around under the guise of filming a commercial. They get the rig running again, but instead of striking oil, they strike designer water. With the craze of products like Perrirer, Waring is sure they can make a huge profit going into the bottled water business. Around the same time, Sir Malcolm Leveridge (Leonard Rossiter), a representative of the British government, visits to tell Baxter that the island serves the government no purpose. Thus, the island is to be evacuated, with all the residents to be sent to other islands where they can serve as workers.
Baxter is none too thrilled with this development and begins working with the oil company to ensure that the recent discovery pays off for the residents of Cascara with jobs and benefits. When Sir Malcolm catches wind of the supply of water, he tries to team up with Delgado, as well as some Cubans, to start a war, making the island an undesirable place for the oil company to be, and putting the spring back into the hands of the crown. Throw into the mix an environmentalist named Pamela Weintraub (Valerie Perine) who’s on the island to study bats, and who also happens to be the daughter of the head of the oil company (Fred Gwynne).
Eventually, Baxter and Pamela end up captured by Delgado and the Cubans. But, after they free themselves, Baxter turns Delgado to his cause as the tiny island’s struggle finally begins to be noticed by the rest of the world.
“Water” does get a bit confusing as it moves on. There are so many different groups working against each other, it’s a bit hard to keep track of. I didn’t even mention the French mercenaries who enter late in the story…Alfred Molina appears among their ranks. Plus, being a British production, the film does play off elements of British government and culture that will probably not hit home with many American viewers. Still, I found the script to be quite clever, with many funny little quips. Michael Caine’s delivery of these lines is the icing on the cake. We tend to associate him more with dramatic roles, but he has a great sense of comic timing.
Not so great is Brenda Vacarro in an extremely annoying turn as Caine’s wife. She uses a strange accent and, for the life of me, I can’t tell what nationality she’s supposed to be. Whatever country she’s supposed to be from should be offended by her stereotypical performance. Also a strange presence in the film is Jimmy Walker as the island’s only DJ. The character is even named “Jay Jay,” in a nod to Walker’s role on the sitcom “Good Times.” His part seems tacked on, a weak attempt to include someone American audiences would recognize. Problem is, Walker’s “Dyno-mite” schtick hadn’t been hip for about 7 years when this film came out.
“Water” does have some weak moments, but the film is overall fun. It’s strongest moment actually comes at the very end when producer Harrison lets the filmmakers take a friendly jab at himself as he, along with Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton, appear in a musical benefit for Cascara. In the end, the film is an enjoyable comedy…and even we silly Americans will get most of the humour (with a “u,” no less).