‘The Burning Sea’ Review: Smoke on the Water

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Even allowing for the elastic credibility standards of the average survival movie, “The Burning Sea” is a stretch. (A favorite moment is when the unconscious half of the central couple pops awake at an especially critical juncture.) Yet if the machinations of the plot are a tad rickety, its geologic premise is inarguably stable.

Tucking a simple romance inside a disaster thriller, the director John Andreas Andersen uses an oil-rig collapse off the coast of Norway to deliver a dire warning of environmental disruption. When Sofia (a charming Kristine Kujath Thorp), an underwater robotics expert, joins the team seeking survivors and an explanation for the accident, she’s horrified to learn that a larger catastrophe could be imminent. Unfortunately, mitigation efforts will prove too late to prevent Sofia’s boyfriend (Henrik Bjelland), a sweet-natured rig worker, from requiring the kind of extreme rescue effort only a woman in love would undertake.

Nodding to the cataclysmic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the screenwriters Lars Gudmestad and Harald Rosenlow-Eeg underscore the possibly calamitous oceanic consequences of decades of drilling. Opportunities for a more fraught political drama, however, are basically ignored: When an oil-company executive instructs Sofia to sign a nondisclosure agreement, we expect at least some cover-up shenanigans. Instead, we get little more than a bland romance, smoothly professional special effects and a story that’s finally too predictable to raise the heart rate.

A more tantalizing tale is teased in segments that bookend the movie and, based on interviews with retired oil workers, explain the cowboy nature of the industry’s early days, when training consisted of an instruction to “just follow the Americans.” Maybe not always the best advice.

The Burning Sea
Rated PG-13 for language appropriate to the expectation of a fiery, watery death. In Norwegian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Google Play, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.


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