The most enduring critique leveled against the cinema du look is its fixation on surface, an obsession that reaches its apotheosis in Luc Besson’s The Big Blue. Soup to nuts, Besson’s deep-diving melodrama stresses its own depth—emotional, artistic, oceanic—while ping-ponging between its two lead frenemies: the gooey-eyed dolphin-whisperer Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr) and the brash, obnoxious, and charismatic Enzo (Jean Reno). With the screenplay torn between these broadly drawn extremes, no longtime Besson watcher should be surprised that the filmmaker is in top form as ringmaster, less so when he’s trying to be a poet.
Enzo and Jacques grow up in the same tiny Greek fishing village, showing off for neighborhood kids by diving for coins. Their relationship is established as adversarial, but in such a way that Enzo comes across as equally willing to help and challenge Jacques—a funny character contradiction that seems molded around Reno. Jacques is a nonstarter of a character and Besson seems to have known it, because when the narrative jumps from 1965 to the present (1988), the director first reintroduces Enzo, who’s continuing his bombastic shenanigans. By now Enzo has become a world-champion diver, and he’s inevitably bored to tears with his glory: free booze, hotels, and loose women.