The moody ambience of the beachside noir “Wetlands” is almost enough to make you want to plan an off-season visit to Atlantic City, near where it is set, or to believe the film’s dramatic devices and occasionally arch dialogue. And yet, for some, its atmosphere and intriguing performances will prove worthy of the outing.
Babel Johnson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), called Babs, is a former Philadelphia cop who had a drug problem. Now clean, he is living in New Jersey, dealing with corrupt police brass and getting a new partner, Paddy Sheehan (Christopher McDonald), an affable gambling addict whose wife (Jennifer Ehle), a TV news anchor, strikes sexual sparks with Babs.
But Babs is mainly on a mission to regain the trust of his ex, Savannah (Heather Graham), and daughter, Amy (Celeste O’Connor), who want no part of him. Savannah cavorts in seedy bars with Surfer Girl (Reyna de Courcy), a drug runner skimming goods that she hopes will buy her a new life in Hawaii. When Surfer Girl runs afoul of her suppliers, events take a homicidal turn as a coastal hurricane brews.
As the haunted Babs, Mr. Akinnuoye-Agbaje has an imposing physicality and understated nobility, while Ms. Graham fleshes out the resolute if underwritten Savannah. (Ms. Graham keeps improving, and her role lends a welcome grit to her fresh-scrubbed image.) And Barry Markowitz’s cinematography nicely captures a desolate outpost of sea and sin. But as cinematic excursions go, “Wetlands,” the feature debut of its writer-director, Emanuele Della Valle, is more deserving of a day trip than a long-term stay.
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