DEEP BLUE SEA (1999) 

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Saffron Burrows
Thomas Jane
Samuel L. Jackson
LL Cool J
Michael Rapaport
Jacqueline McKenzie
Stellan Skarsgard
Aida Turturro

Renny Harlan



Time: 105 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Horror/Suspense

I, like most people scared out of the water by JAWS, have been waiting for another film about sharks to be as horrifyingly entertaining. After watching this adrenaline over-loaded bloodfest, I'm still waiting. I first tried watching this film on a transatlantic flight, hoping it would be an exciting way to pass the time. It went from merely implausible to completely ridiculous in a matter of minutes, so much so that I didn't even bother to see how it ended...and I had another 7 hours to kill. However, I couldn't resist finding out who lives and dies when it came on HBO. It starts off with a pretty decent premise, for a Renny Harlin movie, but quickly supplants any hope for an intelligent thriller when it ditches the heart and goes for the jugular. The best part of this film ends up being the shark effects, which at times are super cool and at others merely CGI place holders. It ends up being a strange cross between the "how are we going to get off this sinking ship" atmosphere of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and the bloody smorgesboard of young flesh of JAWS 2.

The action is centered on a remote aquatic research facility under the direction of Dr. Susan McAlester (Burrows). They are testing a trio of genetically enhanced Mako sharks in the belief that there's a property contained in their brains that can help cure Alzheimers. They are extremely close to finding the link when the sharks start exhibiting strange behaviors – like being able to reason. It soon becomes evident to the crew, a mixture of scientists and support staff, that their somewhat docile captives are no longer willing to be test subjects. The sharks want out and they make their wishes known by starting a crusade against their captors. They wreak havoc on the station, trapping our "heroes" below the surface and in their path. The humans are stuck between drowning in the sinking facility or facing the razor sharp teeth of the sharks. As the film progresses, it becomes quite clear that no one is safe from the wraith of these creatures – even the film's A-List talent. The ending is the least hokey part of the film, yet renders the previous 100 minutes completely useless by destroying any hope of something good coming out of the mayhem produced by the project.

"See how that works? She screws with the sharks, and now the sharks, the sharks are screwing with us."

What the film grossly lacks, besides decent dialogue, is any attempt at suspense. We know sharks are killing machines. We know, given the genre, many of the characters we haven't been given a chance to know and love are going to be torn to pieces. We know the sharks are going to be destroyed. So what we're left with, is the assumption that at least the filmmakers will at least try to inject some element of surprise. What we get is indiscriminate killing from sharks who brains are double their normal size (produced by genetic mutation only known to Dr. Susie). Knock me over with a feather. Like that's the only reason these creatures are murdering their captors. As ridiculous as the whole escapade is, it becomes downright stupid in the last third when they try to make us believe that the sharks are deliberately herding the humans where they want them to go in order to sink the station and gain their freedom. I could buy that the sharks wanted out and were smart enough to search out and eat the people, but I wasn't aware they knew how to read, interpret architectural diagrams or understood the laws of physics. How could they possibly know how best to get the station to sink? Sure, poking enough holes in it will probably do the trick, but the rest of the equation is complete hooey.

The only actors given anything interesting to do are Samuel L. Jackson and LL Cool J. Jackson gives the film an intelligence and weight that without his presence would have made this trifle totally unbearable. LL Cool J is the film's conscience, as well as supplying it's limited sense of humor. He plays the religious cook Preacher, a man warring against his perpetual sinfulness and his love of God. Don't worry, this is played for laughs, not moral depth. His kitchen battle with one of the sharks is the funniest and scariest sequence in the film. Saffron Burrows is at least believable as a scientist, but loses any and all credibility when she ends up fighting one of the sharks in her underwear. This is pure Renny Harlin. God fordid he film a movie where his heroine doesn't end up wet and half naked. Not a role that's going to get her noticed for her acting talent. Thomas Jane is only memorable because he has the most physical role and survives in the end. There's not much one can do with the "bad boy with a heart of gold" role that we haven't seen before. The rest of the bunch aren't really given enough to do to make much of a mark. Though the way Stellan Skarsgard buys the farm is pretty damn unique.

The tagline for the film is "Bigger. Smarter. Faster. Meaner." which certainly applies to the sharks, though unfortunately not the rest of the film. If you're into watching people get torn into tiny bloody bits then you'll probably enjoy this movie. It seems Harlan took great joy in showing us just how horrifying being eaten can be. Both the mechanical and CGI sharks are impressively rendered, they just don't have much emotional bite. If we cared at all about the people they were snacking on, this would be more than a mere computer showcase for brutality. How actors can read scripts like this and agree to participate is beyond me. I know some films are made just for entertainment purposes, but do they have to be stupid as well as mindless? All I'm asking for is a little quality and originality in my enteraintment. In this case, that's too much to wish for.

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