Deep Blue Sea (1999) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for graphic shark attacks, and for language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, Michael Rapaport, LL Cool J
Director: Renny Harlin
Screenplay: Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers, Wayne Powers
Review published July 29, 1999
If there's one thing Hollywood needs to learn is that Jaws is the definitive shark terror movie. There has never been another remotely close to being as good and there probably never will be. Deep Blue Sea is just the latest in a tradition of underwater terror fiascos proving that very point.
Here is the laughable plot: a group of scientists build a large off-shore complex where they can experiment on some sharks in an effort to find a cure for Alzheimer's. One of the scientists decides to break the rules and change the experiment, making the brains of the sharks larger to increase the likelihood of success in her studies. Uh oh...Now they have created killing machines that think, and it seems these sharks have nothing better to do than plot the demise of the very scientists that created them.
There has already been a "smart shark" film made before and that was called Jaws the Revenge. That film stunk and this was almost as bad. Here we have a film that makes almost no sense whatsoever. Why experiment on sharks (which aren't even mammals, much less primates) to cure a disease found only in humans? Why build a structure out in the middle of the ocean when one could bring sharks back for study in an on-shore facility? Why would making the brains larger mean that the sharks will be smarter? Why do are the sharks so large in some scenes that they can crash through unbreakable underwater windows and in others they are so small they can stealthily be submerged in less than three feet of water? Why does everything blow up as if 2 tons of TNT were strapped to it?
The answer to all these things, of course, is that it looks cool, and therein lies one of the major problems with the film. Director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight) has built a career in style over substance, logic be damned action thrillers which look good but which are mind-numbingly stupid. He chooses a complex that looks cool but serves no realistic purpose, his sharks look cool but perform feats unlike any in reality, his actors are selected for their looks rather than their abilities right down to the hip glasses Samuel L. Jackson (The Phantom Menace, The Red Violin) wears, and no scene can end without some sort of explosion or a hip R&B/hip hop song to add to the soundtrack.
The main fault though stems not from the terminal lapse of logic that permeates every frame of the film, but the fact that it lacks the one thing that any good scare flick needs to be: scary. Here are the ingredients for failure: a predictable plot, phony-looking sharks, B-grade supporting actors, and a serious lack of plausibility. It all adds up to knowing where the film is going to go 20 minutes before it happens, while not caring about any of the one-dimensional characters. And when you know what's going to happen and you don't care about the characters, you aren't going to be frightened when they are attacked.
The only real entertainment value to be had from this film is by laughing at it. Had it had a self-effacing, "we know this is all a crock of crap so let's just have fun" attitude it may have actually been better, but the film makes the mistake of taking itself seriously, which makes it all the more laughable. If you really need to watch a shark film, you know which one to rent. Even if you've seen Jaws 20 times already, it still will deliver more thrills and chills than this one will ever muster.
©1999 Vince Leo