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Deep Blue Sea

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool, Michael Rapaport, Wayne Knight

Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

In this most uncommonly eclectic summer of films--which has offered just about everything from record-shattering space epics to potty-mouthed animated kids--it's ironic that the one thing that has been missing is _the_ typical summertime staple: the all-out, full-throttle action extravaganza. Leave it to popcorn director extraordinaire Renny Harlin to fill the void in explosive fashion with his exciting super-shark thriller _Deep_Blue_Sea_.

The killer shark theme of _Deep_Blue_Sea_ will inevitably (and understandably) invite comparison to _Jaws_. However, Harlin's film is more reminiscent of the _Alien_ films, with a group of people trapped in a confined space as murderous monsters stalk the halls: in this case, three sharks that have large, genetically-altered brains--and a larger appetite for blood to match. If one must describe _Deep_Blue_Sea_ in terms of other films, the best way to do so would be as "_Aliens_ meets _Jaws_ meets _The_Abyss_," for the sea laboratory setting also means that our human cast must also evade, as in that third film, violent rushes of water.

If I said there weren't much more going on in _Deep_Blue_Sea_ aside from sharks chasing people, I'd only be half lying. There is a plot behind the mayhem; something about how the enhanced sharks are part of scientist Susan McAlester's (Saffron Burrows) experiments in developing a way to regenerate human brain tissue. But all plot pretty much goes out the window once the first of her three test sharks breaks loose, setting off a chain reaction of events that traps Susan and five others (played by Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J, Thomas Jane, Michael Rapaport, and Jacqueline McKenzie) aboard the lab facility, which floats somewhere in the ocean.

Of course, Harlin does take a break here and there from the ensuing action in the interest of plot. In theory, this would make this thrill ride a bit more well-rounded, but the dialogue scenes play as excess baggage--and often of the most ludicrous variety. Many of the quieter moments were met with derisive laughter by the audience, and it's no surprise considering how laughable much of writers Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers, and Wayne Powers's dialogue is. The characters (and actors) are pretty much faceless mice placed into an experimental maze, and the heavyhanded "dramatic" moments meant to correct the situation just end up hurting the film.

Despite the hamfisted stabs at dramatic substance, Harlin never loses his wicked sense of fun, best exemplified by how one character's earnestly over-the-top monologue is punctuated by the fatal chomp of a shark. Fun is the intent of pictures such as _Deep_Blue_Sea_, and Harlin delivers the goods, as he has many times in the past (most recently in the underrated 1996 machisma-fueled shoot-'em-up _The_Long_Kiss_Goodnight_). Those breath-catching pauses for talk do not derail the propulsive momentum of the film, which is essentially one long run from the water and sharks. There may be no emotional attachment to any of the characters (though LL Cool J's wisecracking chef proved to be an audience favorite, and indie stalwart Jane ably holds down the action hero role), but the suspense and fright factor are definitely felt as they are hunted down by the trio of sharks.

_Deep_Blue_Sea_ is indeed a triumph of Harlin's style over a lack of substance, but when the results are as exciting and exhilarating as this fast-paced thrill ride, any such complaint is moot. After all, what more can anyone ask from an unpretentious piece of pure action escapism?

On the other hand, "exciting" and "exhilarating" aren't the words I'd use to describe the season's other "killer creature in the water" movie, _Lake_Placid_. "Bizarre" is more like it. I hesitate to call Steve Miner's film, in which a giant crocodile gobbles up anyone who sets foot in a still Maine lake either a thriller or a comedy, and not because it fairly seamlessly blends both of those genres. It's that it doesn't do either aspect much justice. The "scare" sequences fail to do so, especially due to the less-than-effective croc effects; and the humorous touches thrown in by writer David E. Kelley--yes, the same David E. Kelley responsible for such TV series as _Ally_McBeal_ and _The_Practice_--aren't so much smart as they are silly. The cast, which is led by Bill Pullman, Bridget Fonda, Oliver Platt, Brendan Gleeson, and an amusingly foul-mouthed Betty White, is game enough, but they cannot elevate the weak material beyond the watchable junk level.

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