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‘The Sea’ is a sullen sinker: bad mix of comedy, drama

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THE SEA — ** — Gunnar Eyjolfsson, Hilmir Snaer Gudnason, Sigurdur Skulason, Nina Dogg Filippusdottir, Elva Osk Olafsdottir, Gudrun Gisladottir, Helene de Fougerolles, Kristbjorg Kjeld, Sven Nordin; in English, Icelandic and French, with English subtitles; not rated, probable R (profanity, nudity, sex, violence, vulgarity, brief gore, ethnic slurs); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for theater listings.

If there were even one character worth caring about, there might be a reason to watch "The Sea." Instead, it's a place — well, a movie, of course — that's populated with assorted jerks, whiners and perhaps the least appealing lead character in recent memory.

The resulting film is so sullen that it's more painful than a three-day family reunion with all of your least-favorite relatives. And that's a shame, because there's at least the potential for something better.

Even the few, periodic moments of humor seem poorly thought out, coming as concessions by filmmakers who finally understood that their movie was oppressively dark.

The title of this Icelandic drama refers to the waters that have provided a living for Thordur Agustsson (Gunnar Eyjolfsson) and his family. For decades, Thordur has run a successful fishery, but it seems endangered as big-business interests begin to move in.

His children, especially oldest son Haraldur (Sigurdur Skulason), hope he'll sell the plant, or at least take over its day-to-day operations. No such luck.

Tensions over that and other, darker secrets emerge when the entire family gets together for a reunion of sorts. Thordur plans to use that occasion to announce he's writing his memoirs, but the others have their own ideas about what needs to be said.

Among the more questionable material is a creepy subplot involving youngest son Agust (Hilmir Snaer Gudnason) and Maria (Nina Dogg Filippusdottir).

Director Baltasar Kormakur made a solid debut with 2000's "101 Reykjavik," but here the material eludes him. He strives to achieve the right mix of comedy and drama, but neither really seems to work.

Even the cast seems confused at times. Eyjolfsson can't quite decide whether his character is deranged. However, Elva Osk Olafsdottir turns in some solid work as his verging-on-madness daughter-in-law.

"The Sea" is not rated but would probably receive an R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity and crude slang terms and gestures, full male and female nudity, simulated sex, violence (a beating and explosive mayhem), brief gore and use of ethnic slurs. Running time: 109 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com