Sex sells. Everyone knows that. So adding eroticism to thrillers was always a way to spice things up, grab the attention of viewers, and make a moderate film into a moderate success. Add one or two big names (in this case, Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin) and you had a winning formula. Until, of course, it started to lose. Because there's not really any such thing as a winning formula in the movie business, unless you count the two main ways to make profit: either spend so little that profit is guaranteed or spend so much that the movie gets to eventually make profit by the sheer inescapability of the brand.
Harold Becker directs this slick slice of hokum, and the premise is as fun as it is silly. There's a killer on the loose, someone targeting men who have advertised in a lonely hearts column. Al Pacino teams up with John Goodman to catch the killer, and they decide that the best way to get their perp is to, yep, put an ad in the same lonely hearts column. A number of women reply to the ad, with Ellen Barkin being one of them. Pacino starts to warm to Barkin, even as it becomes more and more obvious that she's the best suspect they've had since starting the investigation.
Writer Richard Price really just goes through the motions here, as does director Harold Becker, but viewers are lucky enough to have the material lifted, ever so slightly, by the great cast. Pacino and Barkin may not be the top two people on your list of folks you wanted to see make out with one another, but they don't do too bad in the sexual chemistry department. In fact, the two central characters really make a good couple, with all of the baggage and cynicism that they have. The rest is all as you'd expect it to be. There's the kind of soundtrack that you'd expect, with the title song making frequent appearances, and one or two decent red herrings on the way to the relatively tense finale. Well, when I say "relatively tense" I actually mean "not tense at all, but still entertaining enough nonetheless".
As for the rest of the cast, Goodman puts in the kind of solid supporting turn that he's been doing for most of his career. He doesn't really steal all of his scenes, but he certainly leaves an impression. John Spencer and Richard Jenkins are both fellow members of the police force, with the latter involved in a couple of great run-ins with Pacino, due to the tension caused by him now living with Al's ex-wife. William Hickey and Michael Rooker do well with fairly small roles, and Christine Estabrook and Patricia Barry also make the most of their screentime, both playing different women putting themselves out there in the world of dating.
Certainly not as good as more delightfully sleazy entries in the subgenre, Sea Of Love is passable enough, mainly thanks to the cast, and I'm sure Pacino completists will be able to stomach it on their way through his filmography.