A lot of people talk down on Renny Harlin. But with his films — Prison, A Nightmare on Elm Street part 4: The Dream Master, Die Hard 2 and more — you know exactly what you’re getting. A popcorn movie with no brain ready to entertain you until you can’t take it any more.
Witness his take on shark movies. He gets what works and then makes the movie fly so it doesn’t feel like even half of its 1 hour, 45-minute length. This is lean, mean and ready to bite.
Shot in the same tanks that James Cameron used for Titanic, the idea of this movie is absolutely ridiculous. In a deep sea facility, a team of scientists is using mako sharks to reactivate dead brain cells within patients with Alzheimer’s disease. One of those sharks has already escaped and attacked a boat full of partying teens, so the company behind it all sends Russell Franklin (Samuel Jackson) to investigate.
Doctors Susan McAlester and Jim Whitlock (Saffron Burrows and Stellan Skarsgård) prove their research to Franklin by removing protein complexes from the brain of their biggest shark. Bad idea — one shark is all it takes to mess everything up. It eats up Whitlock’s arm and as he’s being evacuated, inclement weather fouls up everything. His stretcher goes into the shark pen and as one of the sharks grabs it, it pulls the helicopter into the tower, killing anyone who could get the word out that things have gone wrong.
Susan, Russell, shark wrangler Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), marine biologist Janice Higgins and engineer Tom Scoggins (Michael Rapaport) then watch a shark use that very same stretcher to smash its way into the lab, flooding the entire base. Susan then confesses that she and Jim had genetically engineered the brain size of the sharks, which let them harvest more protein. It also made them smarter and deadlier. This is why this movie is wonderful; dumb lapses in science and logic that are glossed over so that more people can be devoured by sharks.
Meanwhile, cook Sherman “Preacher” Dudley (LL Cool J) may have lost his parrot to a shark and almost got cooked in an oven, but he knows the shark’s natural movie predator: explosions. He blows one shark up real good and goes to find the rest of the crew.
When we find the crew, they’re arguing and Russell gives a speech about how everyone has to work together. In any other movie, this is where people would pull it through. Here, a shark emerges and decimates the executive. It’s a moment that will make you stand up on your couch and scream your head off in glee.
What I love about this one is that no one is safe. The people you expect to survive — and the ones you don’t — get killed horribly. If you love watching sharks eat people, good news. This one has it all.
There are a lot of cues to Jaws here: the license plate they find in a shark’s mouth is the same as that movie. And the ways the three sharks are killed — blown up, electrocuted and incinerated — exactly play back the way the shark is killed in Jaws, Jaws 2 and Jaws 3D.
You should totally check this one out. I was actually surprised by how much I loved it. That’s after more than twenty shark movies in a few weeks, so that’s really saying something.
PS: The song LL Cool J does in this film, “Deepest Blue (Shark Fin)” is absolutely insipid. I love it. Do yourself a favor and look up the lyrics.