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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions: "Deep Blue Sea" involves a story line that proves the point. Renny Harlin's film focuses on an experiment conducted at a marine biology base in Baja California three miles from the Mexican town of Santa Rosita. A team of scientists led by the brilliant Dr. Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard) seeks a cure for Alzheimer's disease, with Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows), a particularly idealistic woman, thrilled to part in shark research that could finish off the dread degenerative disease. But in doing so, McAlester necessarily creates a Frankenstein monster intent on destroying the very people who are messing with its life--getting revenge indeed, as this big fish can actually think and plan on a fairly high level. Three sharks have been genetically altered to make them smart. The biologists' aim is to draw fluid from their brains of these 8,000-pound killing machines that could be synthesized into a drug. The trouble is that if any of these sharks should get loose--a distinct possibility given their dolphin-like brainpower--they could destroy first their creators and then untold numbers of others they'd happen upon in the deep blue sea. This is a Frankenstein story indeed.

But Renny Harlin, who oversees this shark-o-rama is no Whale and does not come close to replicating the terror created in "Jaws" by Steven Spielberg--a classic that fortunately went light on the special effects. Nor are writers Duncan Kennedy, Wayne Powers and Donna Powers, in a class with Mary Shelley. With a lame script (think of the cry of one victim, Janet Winters, who falls into the water: Save me! I don't want to die!") and a direction that employs not a smidgen of originality, what do you have left? Just special effects: but in that area, the oversized suchi created by CGI and animatronic technology look no more authentic that the fish that Spielberg worked with in 1975. The obligatory explosions and torrents of water rushing into the laboratory threatening to drown everyone who's not already eaten are as generic as the shark is genetic.

The story opens on Russell Franklin, who heads a major pharmaceutical company about to pull the plug on its $200 million investment in Alzheimer's research. He is talked into giving the research team forty-eight more hours to convince him of their achievements and is escorted to the Baja California site of the experimentation where he is introduced to the "brilliant" Dr. Jim Whitlock. "If he's so brilliant," asserts Franklin, "Why is pissing into the wind?" (Indeed the doctor is doing just that on top of the deck. Why? Probably to get a laugh out of audience members who haven't seen that silly gesture a dozen times this year.) Susan impresses Franklin by dropping 2 cc. of shark fluid into a bottled brain, noting how the cells are regenerating successfully, but just as he's about to report back to his company to authorize the investment, all hell breaks loose in Baja. If this is not your first summer horror movie, you know the rest.

The cast wastes the extraordinary talent of Stellan Skarsgard in what's easily his silliest role (Skarsgard is perhaps most familiar to an American audience from his appearance in "Ronin" but the Swedish actor's great role teamed him with the great Emily Watson in Lars von Trier's "Breaking the Waves"). Samuel L. Jackson looks appropriately professorial with goatee and glasses, and while his role is likewise shallow, he performs a great service for the pharmaceutical industry, which constantly needs to justify the outlandish prices that Americans pay for prescription drugs. LL Cool J is the audience sentimental favorite as Dudley, a parrot-loving cook on the lab site, who wonders why the "brothers" don't leave dangerous assignments to "the white folks." This is a summer movie, granted, but it's hot out there: we deserve better.

Hey: If these genetically-altered sharks are do darn smart, what are they doing in this film?

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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