It must be a kick for the Makeup & Nifty Effects people to sit in the back of a theater and soak in the reaction from the audience when a character has to stitch up that nasty cut on her forehead with a makeshift needle and thread — or how about that moment when someone rips open a jeans leg, and we see the “bone” jutting out from a gaping wound? GROSS!
We have such visceral reactions to these onscreen moments. Nervous chuckles, cries of “Ewwww!”, even closing our eyes and telling our seatmate to let us know when the scene is over.
The seafaring survival drama “Adrift” dutifully (and quite effectively) delivers on the ol’ stitch-the-wound scene — and gives us multiple looks at an increasingly gruesome leg injury.
We also get a number of other familiar lost-at-sea movie moments, from the rationing of food and water (there always seem to be a few cans of Spam onboard) to the desperate firing of the flare gun to the moment when somebody wails, “We’re going to die out here!”
These are hardly spoilers, good people. When your main characters are lost at sea, with little hope of contacting the outside world and a finite amount of time before hope dies, there’s little choice but to fall back on a familiar set of occurrences to keep the plot churning.
“Adrift” is based on the true story of Tami Oldham and her fiancé Richard Chase, who in 1983 were hired to sail a yacht from Tahiti to San Diego, a 4,000-mile adventure that turned harrowing and life-threatening when their craft was caught up in Hurricane Raymond and tossed about like a toy boat.
If you know the details of what happened, certain developments in the movie will not surprise you. Even if you aren’t familiar with the story, you might figure it out.
Noted free spirit Shailene Woodley is well cast as Tami, a sunny and adventurous 23-year-old who has spent the last five years traveling the world, picking up work where she can and never looking back. (To say Tami’s upbringing back in San Diego wasn’t exactly idyllic is putting it mildly. Little wonder she has no interest in returning home any time soon.)
Tami meets a kindred soul in the Englishman Richard (Sam Claflin), a handsome, easygoing sailor who has literally built his own boat and is addicted to life on the open waters. Within months, they’re engaged and planning a life together.
And then a wealthy couple offer them $10,000 and two first-class plane tickets to transport the yacht. A few weeks into the excursion, disaster strikes. Richard is incapacitated by a shattered leg and busted ribs, and it’s up to Tami to figure out a way to repair the craft, chart a (seemingly impossible) course to civilization and oh yeah, survive with meager provisions.
Director Baltasar Kormákur (who helmed the 2015 mountain-climber survival story “Everest”) ping-pongs back and forth between the aftermath of the disaster and the sun-dappled, sweet and quite cheesy courtship of Tami and Richard, who marvel at their good fortune in finding one another as they spend their days sailing and kissing and swimming and laughing and dancing and kissing and you get the idea.
At times the flashback sequences feel repetitive and unnecessary. Let’s get back to the wrecked boat and find out if Tami the staunch vegan will get over her refusal to kill any living thing and spear a tasty fish for dinner!
We don’t even see the actual wreck until near the end of the film — but when the storm arrives, director Kormákur, top-flight cinematographer Robert Richardson, the special effects team and two game actors do an incredible job of plunging us into this terrifying experience.
Woodley is a stronger screen presence than the low-key Claflin, but they have a lovely and natural chemistry together. We’re glad Tami and Richard found one another.
“Adrift” doesn’t have the impact of the minor classic “Open Water” (2003) or the underappreciated Robert Redford survival story “All Is Lost” (2013) or even last year’s fantastically implausible Blake-Lively-Vs.-Great-White-Shark “The Shallows,” but it’s a well-tailored vehicle for Woodley to showcase her grit and her hippie-dippie appeal.
STXfilms presents a film directed by Baltasar Kormákur and written by Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell and David Branson Smith, based on the book by Tami Oldham Ashcraft with Susea McGearhart. Rated PG-13 (for injury images, peril, language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements). Running time: 120 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.