Brain cells first victim in shark film

July 28, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

"Deep Blue Sea" may be the first shark movie where the critters are smarter than the filmmakers -- not necessarily a bad thing, but something you should know going in.

Of course, these are abnormally high-I.Q. sharks, big-brained beasts genetically engineered to be super-smart, the better to harvest their brains for cells that might cure Alzheimer's. (Still, just how smart is a shark who can turn on a microwave oven but can't tell the difference between an orange life vest and actress Saffron Burrows?)

Such a small-brained plot shouldn't be all that surprising -- especially given the pedigree of director Renny Harlin, who's developed a reputation for big-budget flicks endowed with little thought but plenty of action ("Cliffhanger," "Die Hard II: Die Harder," "Cutthroat Island"). "Deep Blue Sea" fits right onto his resume.

Pressured by financial backers who want to see results, medical researcher Susan McAlester (Burrows) recklessly speeds up her dream project, involving the aforementioned big-brained sharks. This proves to be a mistake when the sharks prove to be not only smart, but royally ticked off. Seems they don't like being penned up in her mid-ocean research facility and having long needles inserted into their brains to drain off the fluid McAlester is convinced holds the key to curing Alzheimer's.

That's about all the plot you need to know; truthfully, that's about all the plot there is. What "Deep Blue Sea" is really all about is watching people get eaten. Harlin's about as subtle as a hammerhead, but he does understand about scaring people: He keeps the sharks generally off-camera so that we never know quite when they're going to strike.

The end result is sort of a cross between "Jaws" and "The Poseidon Adventure." As in the former, a bunch of people are beset by sharks with an attitude; as in the latter, a bunch of stock characters (fearful woman, strong-but-silent hero, wiseacre, scared egghead) desperately try to save themselves from a watery grave by working their way to the surface.

And just like "Poseidon," half the fun is guessing who'll be the next to meet an untimely demise. Will it be the beautiful woman who, like beautiful women in just about every movie like this, ends up stripped down to her skivvies? Will it be Carter Blake (Baltimore native Thomas Jane), the gruff but stalwart hero with the shady background?

Will it be "Preacher" Dudley (a scene-stealing LL Cool J), the wisecracking cook with the foul-mouthed pet parrot? Or will it be Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson, treating his role with the dignity it deserves), the corporate suit who starts off clueless about what's going on but ends up being quite the leader?

Make no mistake, "Deep Blue Sea" is the apotheosis of dumb, put-your-brain-on-hold filmmaking. The plot makes little sense. The human characters seem to possess a collective IQ of 10. And the shock-movie cliches just keep on coming -- beware of characters standing alone; chances are they're about to become shark chow.

But none of that matters when those mean old sharks suddenly appear out of stage left, and a nanosecond later there's one less actor on the screen, one more inside the shark's ample gullet. The film is full of the sort of knee-jerk shockers that leave audiences bursting into nervous laughter. It's a wild ride, and the less one thinks about it, the better.

`Deep Blue Sea'

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows and Thomas Jane

Directed by Renny Harlin

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R (graphic shark attacks, language)

Running time 103 minutes

Sun score ** 1/2

Pub Date: 7/28/99

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