Waterproof (2001)

Waterproof, starring Burt Reynolds, April Grace and Whitman Mayo, is a film about forgiveness and redemption set in rural Louisiana. Tyree is a single mother driving a cab in Washington D.C. and trying to raise her 11 year old son Thaniel at the same time. Unfortunately, Thaniel gets involved with the wrong crowd and is pressured into robbing a local grocery store, operated by Eli Zeal (Burt Reynolds). Things go bad and Thaniel accidentally shoots Eli. His mother Tyree shows up immediately after the shooting and, in a panic, throws both her son and the wounded Eli into her cab and takes off for her family's rural home in Waterproof, Louisiana.Throughout the remainder of the film, Eli will learn forgiveness and familial relationship through getting to know Tyree's family in Louisiana while Tyree comes to terms with some ghosts from her family's past.

That's the basic plot. There are more, though. Too many, in my opinion. In addition to this main plot, we have a romantic subplot that is alluded to but never developed, some racial undertones that are never truly explored, and an overall religious theme to the film that ties it together pretty well but ends up working as a deus ex machina device to just make everything work in the end.

Strong points. This film has a great message: forgiveness and community. Eli, though shot by 11 year old Thaniel and kidnapped by the boy's mother, must learn to forgive. In the process of forgiveness and healing, Eli, a urban Jew, is inducted into the community of the rural, black, Christian population of Waterproof. He not only forgives Tyree and Thaniel, but ends up caring deeply about them. We could draw a parallel to the forgiveness by St. Maria Goretti of her murderer.

The music and cinematography are also great, if you like the culture of the deep South.

Now for weak points. First, this film is a rip-off from the 1997 movie The Apostle starring Robert Duvall. There are certain differences between the two films (in The Apostle, Duvall eventually faces up to his crime while in Waterproof Thaniel gets off the hook); nevertheless, the similarities of plot are striking - running away to a black town int he deep South to avoid facing up to a crime and while there undergoing spiritual revival while discovering a new sense of community.

The acting is B-grade, with one exception. Despite featuring a well-known actor like Burt Reynolds, you never really feel convinced by the acting. Even Reynolds' performance is less than exceptional. It perhaps would have been better, in this film of a bunch of relative unknowns, to cast Eli's part with another unknown. But, as it stands, every time you see Burt Reynolds, you just say, "There's Burt Reynolds pretending to be Jewish and doing a bad Yiddish accent!"

11 year old Thaniel, played by Cordereau Dye, is a complete non-entity. He serves entirely as a plot-filler. He is a one dimensional character who really demonstrates no change from the beginning of the film to the end. This is a tragedy because this character could have been much better developed. There could have been a touching relationship develop between Thaniel and his would-be victim Eli, as we saw in Finding Forrester, for example. Instead the boy and the old man rarely interact; in fact, he never even apologizes for shooting Eli. Beyond this, though it is implied that Eli forgives Thaniel, Eli never specifically and explicitly says this. The plot moves too quickly off of Eli and Thaniel and centers on Tyree and her personal history, leaving you feel like something is missing. Even when Thaniel gets baptized at the end of the movie there is no real development. Earlier in the film, he sees a picture of Jesus on the wall of his grandmother's house and asks, "Who's the white dude?" Then, at the end of the film, without evidence that Thaniel has even been told anything about Christianity, or even "who the white dude is", he is baptized. We are supposed to believe that he has changed his ways and embraced the Lord, but we are given absolutely no evidence to support it. This makes the baptism at the end seem like a deus ex machina, which this movie is full of.

Tyree, played by April Grace, is high strung and irritable throughout the whole film, which is understandable since her son just shot somebody whom she subsequently kidnapped. But, from a viewer's perspective, you simply cannot have a film where the protagonist is that high strung all the time. It gets irritating. Tyree does have a conversion of sorts, but it is at the absolute very end of the film, is prompted by nothing notable, and comes too abruptly - she goes from being a nervous wreck to the baptismal waters in a matter of moments with no real time given for her development.

I mentioned one exception to the string of B-rate acting, and that is the performance given by Whitman Mayo, who plays "Sugar", the 102 year old grandfather of Tyree who acts as Eli's ad hoc doctor and inspiration. Mayo's performance is exceptionally delightful; I wished the movie was more about him and less about Tyree.

I also have to mention the plot holes. For example, after the shooting of Eli, Tyree decides to take both her son and Eli to her mother's home in Waterproof, Louisiana. The film depicts the car leaving Washington D.C. in the evening and arriving in Waterproof the next morning at the break of day - if sunrise is at 7:00am, then say it was a 10 hour drive. However, D.C. to Louisiana is not an overnight drive; according to Mapquest, it is 17 hours, and that is without any stops. Factoring in stops for gas, the trip should have taken them 18 or 19 hours at least.

More importantly, Tyree's decision to kidnap Eli instead of take him to the hospital after he has been shot is never adequately explained; I suppose we are supposed to presume it is based on her desire to hide the crime if possible and get her son out of trouble. But more troubling, despite the fact that Eli has been shot, he never says, "Why aren't you taking me to a hospital?" He simply rides all the way to Louisiana with her, as if it is the most normal thing in the world to be kidnapped and taken across state lines by the mother of the person who shot you.

Eli never really develops, either. His wound never seems that bad to make us concerned, and his recovery is not sufficiently purgative so as to make us feel like he has really changed. Perhaps this is due to Reynolds' acting, which as I said was a bit sub-par, but I think it is also due to the way the character was written.

There is a strong Christian undertone to the film, but it is not thrust front and center the way it is done in films such as Fireproof or Facing the Giants. I count this as a positive, since the aforesaid mentioned movies seem to have a note of artificiality about them.

Really, though, I am nitpicking. I did find this movie enjoyable. Despite the fact that my mind could never entirely believe the illusion that the movie was trying to create, I was able to get into it. To its credit, it did get much more interesting and intense as it went on. It is definitely worth watching, and has not one blasphemy, sex scene or anything objectionable. There is some bad acting, some stuff that doesn't make sense (like one seen when Thaniel is in a lake and finds himself in need of a weapon to defend himself and a 2x4 conveniently surfaces out of the water) - but it is a nice film with a good message. So, for being a morally upright, well-intentioned film that just suffered from some sloppy writing and poor casting, I give it two out of three tiaras, but this is a low two-tiara rating. It doesn't deserve a 1.5. If I had a 1.75 rating, this film would get it, but since I don't, it gets 2: