Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Deep Blue Sea

By Marc Savlov

AUGUST 2, 1999: 

D: Renny Harlin; with Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, LL Cool J, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michael Rapaport, Stellan Skarsgärd. (R, 105 min.)

At a remote oceanographic outpost deep in the Pacific, a team of scientists headed by bioengineer Dr. Susan McAlester (Burrows) has discovered a way to regenerate human brain tissue using extracts from the brains of mutated mako sharks. "Have you ever known anyone with Alzheimer's?" the cool and plucky McAlester rhetorically asks backer Russell Franklin (Jackson). For a while there I had the notion she was speaking of Deep Blue Sea director Renny Harlin, who in the past has evinced such apparent synaptic misfires as Cutthroat Island and marriage to a pair of cheekbones masquerading as an actress named Geena Davis, but just then a trio of killer sharks devoured everything in sight and my momentary unease passed like chum in the night. Let's not mince words: Deep Blue Sea is a preposterously silly bit of work, chock-full o' nuts and rife with the kind of plot holes you could drive a submersible ROV through if you so chose. Still, it's summertime and we're about due for this sort of rollicking, popcorn-spewing monster movie (the hobbled Lake Placid, I fear, didn't quite cut it). That noted, Harlin's film is a goofy roller-coaster ride into the spiky jaws of funhouse horror. If you can take the "What the hell?" quotient, it's not half bad, actually, the kind of film that's a terrific first-dater, guaranteed to get her (or him) grappling with the armrests and suddenly, perilously perched atop your lap. It's also a reasonably accurate cinematic retread of Gray's Anatomy, as we see (in vivid detail) not one, not two, but five soggy human beings chomped, filleted, and generally reduced to their much smaller components. A&E's Shark Week has nothing on Renny Harlin, let me tell you. As to the plot, it's awfully close to any number of similar humans-in-peril outings, including the superior Deep Rising of a few years back. It also liberally borrows, of course, from Jaws and its first two sequels, though this is to be seen as less of a case of outright theft than of the director's heavy-handed homage. When, early on in the film, Skarsgärd's researcher character is mauled by a shark and requires immediate medical attention, it sets off a chain reaction of such obviously fateful proportions (including the fiery crash of a helicopter into the station's conning tower) that everything else is almost icing on the cake. The sharks, both animatronic and computer-generated, manage to be genuinely convincing most of the time, far beyond anything the young Spielberg could come up with, and as such they appear far more frequently than Jaws' Bruce the Shark (which never worked all that well to begin with). The actor/victims, including Romper Stomper's McKenzie, are mostly cookie-cutter gore factories (though Jackson does have one deliciously scenery-chewing soliloquy that had the audience on its feet and whooping), but, hey, it's a summertime monster movie, so, really, what did you expect? Inane? You bet. Violent? God, yes. But plenty of cheesy fun, if you're into this sort of thing.

2.5 Stars

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