In the beginning, there was a yacht in the Caribbean.
Working on that yacht was a waiter named Manuel (Juan Pablo Di Pace). Manuel was strong, handsome, and as sexy as a reality show participant. He knew how to repair things. He knew how to catch fish. His job may have required him to serve margaritas to rich assholes from the United States but he always did it with an attitude. Manuel was the type of arrogant working man who one would typically expect to find Giancarlo Gianinni playing in a Lina Wertmuller film. Of course, Manuel is more interested in getting laid than leading a worker’s revolution. In fact, just before setting out on his latest voyage, he broke up with his girlfriend. She reacted by pointing at him and laughing evilly. In a movie like this, that can only mean one thing: VOODOO CURSE!
And then there was Jenny (Kelly Brook) and her husband, Jack (Billy Zane). While Jenny was the trophy wife, Jack was the American businessman who rented out the yacht for a fishing expedition. Jack was arrogant. Jack was outspoken. Jack was convinced that he knew how to survive at sea, even though he didn’t. He and Manuel took an instant dislike to each other. It didn’t help Manuel’s cabin was right next to Jenny and Jack’s and that the sound of Jenny’s ecstatic moaning kept Manuel from getting a goodnight’s rest.
(Of course, another reason that Manuel was having trouble getting any sleep was because, at that very moment, his ex-girlfriend was dancing in a candle-filled room and apparently taking part in some sort of Santeria-related ceremony.)
Well, you can guess where this is going, can’t you? Jack and Manuel have an argument on the boat. Manuel gets fired and reacts by taking a towel and throwing it on a stove. Soon, the boat’s on fire. Jenny and Manuel wash up on the shore of an isolated island. For two days, Manuel takes care of Jenny. He catches fish for her. He encourages her to swim naked in the ocean. He yells at her, “You have a perfect ass, senora! It’s shaped like a heart because God didn’t give you a real one!” (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that…) Despite herself, Jenny starts to fall for Manuel. Suddenly, Jack shows up on the beach!
Jack soon proves himself to be just as obnoxious on dry land as he was on the boat. Earlier, Jenny and Manuel had buried the body of the boat’s captain. Jack promptly digs the captain back up so he can get a change of clothes and some cigars. Jenny is stunned that Jack would do something so gross. Jack laughs it off as only Billy Zane can.
Soon, Jack is living on one end of the beach while Manuel is on the other. And Jenny is stuck in the middle. Meanwhile, Manuel’s ex-girlfriend is still dancing in that candle-filled room…
Survival Island is a movie that manages to both bad and brilliant at the same time. In the role of Jenny, Kelly Brook gives a performance that hits so many wrong notes that it almost becomes a perfect example of outsider art. When she should be scared, she seems to be mildly annoyed. When she should be happy, she again seems to be mildly annoyed. The script itself can’t decide whether Jenny is meant to be a noirish femme fatale or a repressed trophy wife. Jenny never really comes to life as anything other than a plot device but I do have to admire the fact that, even after a shipwreck and several days on a desert island, her makeup was always perfect and her hair was always clean. Still, considering that the film revolves around her, Jenny is a surprisingly insubstantial character.
Fortunately, the fact that Jenny is such a poorly written character almost doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Billy Zane is in this movie and he’s exactly the type of shameless, over-the-top performer that this story needs. There’s nothing subtle about Zane’s performance. Jack talks to himself. Even before they end up fighting over Jenny, Jack is always glaring at Manuel. When he manages to catch something to eat, Jack breaks out into a wonderfully self-satisfied grin and when he suspects that Jenny may have cheated on him, he pouts like a child who has just been informed that his favorite toy was donated to the Goodwill while he wasn’t looking. Jack’s the type of character who has a snarky comment about everything and Billy Zane is one of those actors who definitely knows how to deliver a sarcastic line or two. Jack may be a jerk but so what? He’s an American jerk so, as an American film reviewer, I’m required to be on his side. Once Jack — and Billy Zane — loses it and goes crazy on that island, nothing else matters. On the basis of Billy Zane’s presence alone, the film is a guaranteed a certain immortality. Indeed, the main conflict in Survival Island isn’t between Jack and Manuel. Instead, it’s between a film that takes itself seriously and a star who does not.
That’s really what makes Survival Island into such a slyly (if, perhaps, unintentionally) subversive film. The movie may think that it has something to say about class, relationships, and sex but Billy Zane is always on hand to announce,, “No, this is all about watching me go batshit crazy on an island! That’s all that matters!” Just as how Jenny must choose between Jack and Manuel, the viewer is forced to choose between taking the movie seriously or just enjoying Billy Zane at his zaney best.
I have a feeling that most people will go with the latter.