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Deep Blue Sea

Jurassic Park with sharks

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

Directed by Renny Harlin

Written by Duncan Kennedy, Wayne Powers, Donna Powers

With Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, LL Cool J, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport, Stellan SkarsgÅrd, Jacqueline McKenzie

I have to hand it to Hollywood: they make so much junk they’ve gotten pretty good at it. Once in a while, as a result of all that extensive practice, they make some junk that is just nearly great, and I don’t mean the movies that are so bad they are good. No, I mean the utterly forgettable, totally inconsequential action/thriller/suspense extravaganzas, done with very little art but with a whole lot of very impressive craft, which evaporate out of memory in a matter of minutes but which keep the audience alternatively gasping and applauding while they unfold. Deep Blue Sea is such a film.

The whole plot is just about as high-concept as one can get, that is “sharks eat people.” The comparisons with Jaws are easy, obvious, and dead wrong, since this is very much a different kind of a movie. While Jaws was a suspense thriller, turning into an action picture only during its climactic last five minutes, Deep Blue Sea is largely action-oriented, with its main question being neither “will the shark strike?” nor “when will the shark strike?” but merely “who will be the next human eaten and how will this happen?”.

No, the closest parallels are with another Spielberg movie: Jurassic Park, which features a bunch of rather stupid scientists being gradually gobbled up by their own genetically engineered monsters. Jurassic Park, of course, had dinosaurs, which are certainly more interesting than sharks -- and it had Steven Spielberg, who knows a thing or two about putting together a set-piece. Deep Blue Sea is not that lucky: its sharks are nifty but not eye-popping, and director Renny Harlin doesn’t quite know now to put together a scene or a sequence. What he does well is directing moments, and these moments are consistently exciting.

Still, a bunch of exciting moments do not a movie make. What’s neat about Deep Blue Sea is that it pulls one rather nifty trick: it’s defiantly anti-clichÉ. Time after time, it sets up a sickeningly familiar situation, whether it’s the opening shot of a girl dangling her leg in the water (filmed as an underwater zoom-in), or a dramatic “Now people, let’s not whine, let’s fight!” speech, or a comic-relief character wandering around, trying to save his pet. Each time, you know precisely what’s going to happen; each time, something else happens, and this something else is, by and large, more interesting than the tired alternative.

It’s also nice that actors’ prominence and billing have no influence on when he or she bites it, or, rather, gets bitten. Regrettably, said prominence does have an influence on the quality of acting: Samuel L. Jackson is largely effective, while Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, and Jacqueline McKenzie are largely boring. The best acting job, unexpectedly enough, is that by LL Cool J as a cook named Preacher, who’s by far the most likable and smartest character. If he keeps this up, he might give another rap star, Will Smith, a run for his money.

Deep Blue Sea is still junk, for sure. It takes a while to get going, the editing and visuals are mediocre, sound design drowns out all dialogue for the sake of sound effects, and the main theme is stolen wholesale from Jurassic Park. But it’s enormously entertaining crap, and there’s a smidgen of a subtext (note LL Cool J character’s name and the title source). And, by gosh, those people are eaten in very creative ways. Even when the heroine strips to her underwear before facing the monster, there’s a reason for her to do so.