Deep Blue Sea

If that old saying “You are what you eat” is true, then the genetically enhanced sharks in “Deep Blue Sea” are research scientists and their assistants. The sharks eat a lot of research scientists and assistants before they are done, pumping up the level of suspense in this watery action- adventure until it is almost unbearable.

deep blue sea 2I like shark movies. No, I love shark movies. The bigger the shark, the better. The bigger the teeth, the better. The bigger the body count, the better. “Deep Blue Sea” is definitely bigger than all that came before it, but it isn’t necessarily better.

Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” even with its dated robotic shark, still reigns as the fish to fry, yet director Renny Harlin comes close with “Deep Blue Sea.” Working from a serviceable screenplay by Duncan Kennedy and Donna & Wayne Powers, Harlin moves the film along at such a clip that you’re hardly concerned with the fact that the film is basically a rehash of other films.

Harlin even has the audacity to recreate one of his most harrowing moments from “Cliffhanger,” this time involving a research assistant and the man trying to save her from certain death. The assistant even gets to mutter those famous “Cliffhanger” words, “I don’t want to die” before she does.

Has Harlin no shame? Funny thing is, while you’re caught up in the moment, the scene not only makes sense, but is just as harrowing. Same applies to the homages and familiar trappings that the writers have surrounded the characters with. Sure, we’re seen this all before, but not like this.

The filmmaker’s and the cast manage to take old, tired cliches and breathe new life into them. They even manage to come up with some real jolts guaranteed to keep the audience on the edge of their seat.

Once again science is tampering with mother nature, this time in the form of Mako sharks who are being studied in a top secret underwater laboratory in the middle of the ocean. It is here that Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows in her biggest shot at stardom to date) is working on a cure for Alzheimer disease. After feeling helpless when her father was struck by the disease, McAlester has come to the conclusion that sharks are the key to a cure.

Luckily, the writers have come up with enough technical mumbo jumbo to make all of this matter, and even create convincing reasons for the principal players to be involved. Even the high tech laboratory is explained away as an old mid-Ocean submarine docking platform. Hey, it could happen.

It is here in the middle of nowhere that financial backer Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives in order to see for himself the advances that are being made. Unfortunately, McAlester and her crew have just one weekend to prove their theory or lose funding. That means speeding up the process, which always spells disaster in films of this sort.

It also means jeopardizing the rest of the crew, including shark wrangler Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), cook Sherman “Preacher” Dudley (LL Cool J), marine biologist Janice Higgins (Jacqueline McKenzie), facility engineer Todd Scoogins (Michael Rapaport), and research physician Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard).

It doesn’t help that a storm has trapped the crew on the research facility, or that the sharks have gotten smarter as their brains have gotten bigger. When an experiment gets out of control and Whitlock is severely injured, it sets into motion a series of events that force the crew to flee for their lives when the facility starts collapsing around them.

Even though the characters do and say things we expect of them, the writers and Harlin manage to keep some surprises up their sleeve. They also do an excellent job of making the characters endearing enough so we actually care who lives and dies. You know from the outset that the reason all of these characters end up on the platform is to provide enough lunch for the sharks and still leave someone around to tell the tale.

The research facility is a labyrinth of hallways and shafts, which makes an interesting playground for the characters and the sharks to play cat and mouse game. Even though its probably improbable, the sight of seeing the sharks cruise the flooded hallways is not only unique, but actually quite chilling.

Production designer William Sandell has done an excellent job of creating an environment that is both practical and deadly. Director of Photography Stephen Windon keeps us up close and personal with the action, while Trevor Rabin’s musical score emphasizes both the horror and adventure elements.

Even though the actors take a back seat to the computer generated and mechanical sharks, they still manage to make an impression. Burrows is just right as the female scientist who realizes way too late in the game that she allowed her personal agenda to interfere with her professional one.

Thomas Jane looks like a young Redford, with his sandy blonde hair and rough good looks. He’s excellent as the character who hiding out from his part.

In my opinion LL Cool J is by far the best rapper working in films. Everyone else should just go home and spin their records. Given the unenviable task of being the comic relief, LL Cool J manages to rise above the material and make it his own. When he talks out loud about how he doesn’t expect to make it out alive because “brothers never get out of situations like this,” you not only laugh, you nod in agreement.

Samuel L. Jackson has some nice moments as he watches his investment produce positive results, while Michael Rapaport stands out as the one guy who knows the score and doesn’t want to play.

Together, the cast forms a tight knit group of people that you don’t mind spending two hours with. Then there are the sharks. Using computer generated images and mechanical beasts, the filmmaker’s have come up with some truly terrifying monsters of the deep. These guys are not only smart, they’re hungry, and don’t take no for an answer. The actual shark attacks will leave you breathless and unnerved.

Harlin has proven himself as an A-list action director with “Die Hard 2,” “Cliffhanger,” and “The Last Kiss Goodnight,” and even though “Cutthroat Island” was a major misstep, he’s back on top with this wicked tale of the one that didn’t get away.



Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, LL Cool J, Samuel L. Jackson, Jacqueline McKenzie, and Stellan Skarsgard in a film directed by Renny Harlin. Rated R. 110 Minutes.


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