Directed by Steven Soderbergh, The Underneath is a mid-90’s noir tale about Michael (Peter Gallagher) who is a recovering gambling addict returning to his hometown to patch up many of his severed ties and re-establish himself. The movie consists of three different timelines which merge together at the ideal time, revealing the true nature of Michael and the impact of his actions on others. After meeting a beautiful stranger named Susan (Elisabeth Shue) on a Greyhound bus (apparently they were much cleaner back then) he first makes amends with his mother as she is remarrying. His step-father hooks him up with a steady job as an armored car driver ushering large amounts of cash around town.
above: (l-r) Harry Goaz as Casey, Paul Dooley as Ed, Peter Gallagher as Michael and Mark Feltch as George
Michael then gets the bright idea of trying to win back his ex-wife Rachel (Alison Elliott) who is now married to Tommy Dundee (William Fichtner), a crooked bar owner with a short temper. As Michael deals with his desires to gamble as well as the idea of re-capturing his past glory days with Rachel, he eventually gets sucked into a web of deception and crime.
above: William Fichtner as Tommy Dundee and Alison Elliott as Rachel
Steven Soderbergh can undoubtedly spin a sprawling crime drama like Traffic or a slick blockbuster like Ocean’s Eleven (don’t get me started on the sequels), but The Underneath unfortunately feels like an ABC movie of the week. Peter Gallagher doesn’t have much to work with as the protagonist is plain flat and unappealing in every way. Throw in a pointless and nearly ridiculous series of twists at the end and it becomes very hard to walk away from this film excited or enthused. On the bright side, I really enjoyed William Fichtner’s performance as a raging low-down sleazy crook, and it was great to see Harry Goaz (of Twin Peaks fame) as a rambling security guard. While breaking The Underneath down, I hold the opinion that Soderbergh’s experiments with style and ambience were more effectively captivated 6 years later with Traffic, which you should definitely view if you haven’t already.
The survey says… 2.5 stars out of 5.