Underneath, The

After the artistically acclaimed but commercially flop “King of the Hill,” Soderbergh switched gears and made “The Underneath,” an unsuccessful exercise in film noir.

A remake of Robert Siodmak’s 1949 classic “Criss Cross,” which starred Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo, the screenplay was written by Sam Lowry, which follows more or less the same story, while expanding the text’s elements of the central relationship—a classic triangle—and of the thriller.

Peter Gallagher, who had appeared in Soderbergh’s first film, “sex, lies and videotape,” plays Michael Chambers, a compulsive gambler who returns to his small Texas home for the wedding of his mother (Anjanette Comer).

In his absence, his former wife Rachel (Alison Elliott), who he still loves, has married Tommy (William Fichtner), a ruthless local gangster. Predictably, Michael and Rachel rekindle their relationship as soon as they meet, incurring Tommy’s anger.

Soderbergh stages well a plot to heist an armored car, a crime which requires the assistance of Michael’s stepfather (Paul Dooley) and a banker (Elisabeth Shue) with whom Michael has an affair.

This minor movie boasts a talented cast on indie actors. Allison Eliot, who plays the “femme fatale,” was touted as potential star, which never happened.

In the same year, Elizabeth Shue had her breakthrough role in Mike Figgis’ “Leaving Las Vegas,” which garnered her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

You can spot Austin-based director Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”) in a cameo as Ember Doorman, and Shelley Duvall.

The weak dialogue and formulaic plot underlined again Soderbergh’s need for stronger, more original material, and critics wondered why he had chosen this project in the first place.

As the Vogue critic John Powers noted, Soderbergh is a realist with strong feel for textures of domesticity, blessed with a sensibility that’s closer to Eugene Neill and Woody Allen, than to pulp fiction, which is what the material called for.

Slapped with bad reviews across the board, “Criss Cross” failed at the box-office, grossing the pallid amount of half a million dollars, which didn’t even recoup the budget.

“I’m obviously coasting on the success of one film, and it’s always fun to see how long that lasts,” Soderbergh said in 1995. “Luckily, the films I’ve made weren’t really expected to be wildly successful. Whether or not I’m perceived as a commercial filmmaker, or bankable really doesn’t matter to me, I can always write something extraordinarily contained and shoot for very, very cheap.”

Nonetheless, he later admitted that remaking the favorite noir picture was a mistake and that after “The Underneath, “I was at the end of my career, drifting into a place that wasn’t very interesting or challenging.”

End Note:

Soderbergh’s future forays into film noir also proved dissatisfying

Running time: 99 Minutes.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Sam Lowry
Released: April 28, 1995
DVD: Nov 17, 1998