movie film review | chris tookey

Deep Blue Sea

1999 - Warner Brothers - all rights reserved
  Deep Blue Sea Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
5.33 /10
Russell Franklin: Samuel L. Jackson, Carter Blake: Thomas Jane, Susan McAlester: Saffron Burrows
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Directed by: Renny Harlin
Written by: Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers and Wayne Powers

Released: 1999
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 106

There are these three gigantic Mako sharks, you see, and they're in a foul mood. They have just had their brains expanded to five times their normal size, which is enough to irritate anybody. And they are being used as guinea-pigs. They are involuntary recruits to the battle against Alzheimer's disease, thanks to a brilliant British scientist (Saffron Burrows, pictured) who's the fishiest thing in the movie, since she looks as though she would be a lot more at home modelling Versace on a catwalk. On a floating research station that resembles something Hollywood might have made for Waterworld if only it had had the money, she has to show off her talented pets to her financial backer (Samuel L. Jackson).
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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You will not be entirely amazed to hear that a tropical storm blows up, and the sharks fail to perform as expected. Instead, they run amok and make Bruce, the shark in Jaws, look like a namby-pamby vegetarian. Whereupon the people on the lab get bumped off, not necessarily in ascending order of celebrity.

This is one of the few innovations of the movie, and the only respect in which this cheerfully downmarket flick can be compared to LA Confidential. The moment when someone you are not expecting to be swallowed early is neatly bisected by a flying shark is a great moment of trash cinema.

No one is going to pretend that action movies by Finnish director Renny Harlin require an attention span of longer than sixty seconds, still less that they constitute high culture. However, the best of them - Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2 and the underrated Long Kiss Goodnight - have terrific energy, plus an adrenaline-crazed sense of their own loopiness.

Deep Blue Sea is up there with Harlin's most bizarre achievements: a preposterous thrill-ride that you can enjoy while it's happening, then giggle over in retrospect. It's Free Willy gone psycho, Jaws on steroids.

The international cast treats the carnage with commendable seriousness. That fine young American character-actor Michael Rapaport is appropriately nervy as the engineer who is the only person who can explain to his chums (and us) how they might find a way out of this mess. Needless to say, as soon as he shares this intelligence, he is shark-bait.

Aida Turturro turns up briefly as the lab's over-optimistic weather-forecaster, a sort of Michael Fish out of water.

Stellan Starsgard plays the lugubrious physician who is unwise enough to have a foreign accent and smoke. In most movies of this kind, both sins would merely carry the death penalty.

In this one, which is more sternly moralistic than most, one whiff of tobacco reanimates a moribund Mako. Not only does poor old Stellan promptly lose an arm and nearly bleed to death; he is dropped into burning water by a helicopter transformed into a showering inferno, then used as a battering-ram by a shark to engineer the biggest exploding fish-tank scenario the cinema has ever seen. Wow. Smoking really can endanger the health.

There are two Aussie actors who wisely resort to American accents in the hope of surviving the movie. Thomas Jane as an ex-smuggler-turned-shark-expert and Jacqueline McKenzie as a biologist, perform as though genuinely miffed at seeing their various friends, lovers and lower torsos turned into shark-food.

The film is stolen by LL Cool J as the parrot-loving cook who believes in God and, failing interventions by the deity, is willing to use his crucifix as an offensive weapon.

The one actor comically out of her depth is Miss Burrows, but her wooden performance helps to keep the film afloat by adding to the absurdity of it all.

Whether she is indulging in longwinded scientific exposition, coldly resisting the advances of Mr Jane and generally behaving like a stuck-up English supermodel who can't act, it is left entertainingly unclear whether she is meant to be a Strong Woman Survivor in the Sigourney Weaver mould, or being prepared as the ultimate in upmarket sushi.

Maybe Deep Blue Sea lacks the subtlety of Jaws. Okay, it definitely does. But the special effects are miles better. A couple of the nastier surprises had hardened critics rising from their seats like electrified salmon.

If you're unfamiliar with the way the horror movie has developed since Jaws (I hesitate to say "progressed"), be warned that the special effects are exceptionally grisly. Whereas Jaws kept its shark mostly well hidden - for good reason, since he wasn't very scary - Deep Blue Sea shows us these marine killers in all their predatory glory, and cuts smoothly between real, rubber and computer-animated sharks with great panache.

Even the dialogue is better than usual. From Rapaport's initially cheery introduction of the sharks as a maitre d' ("Someone order the fish?") to his indignant statement of the blindingly obvious ("It just ate him!") through to the cook's post-modernist analysis of the black man in monster movies ("No brother ever makes it out of situations like this - not ever!") the screenplay has a sophistication that makes accusations of dumbness unfounded.

Structurally, too, it shows considerable inventiveness; and the way it gets its leading lady to stand in her underwear totally non-gratuitously for the sake of the plot shows a kind of perverse genius.

Listing the scientific and motivational implausibilities could fill up the rest of this page; but they didn't detract in the slightest from my enjoyment. No one will attend Deep Blue Sea in the expectation of it being a natural history programme, or the sequel to Shakespeare in Love.

This is a popcorn flick - a good one. The only thing I would have liked Mr Harlin to explain was this: how come, just because the sharks have got five times brainier, the scientists all have to start acting five times dumber?

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