At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Deep Blue Sea “99”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action Horror/ Stars: Saffron Burrows, Thomas Jane, LL Cool J, Samuel L. Jackson, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michael Rapaport, Stellan Skarsgård, Aida Turturro, Ronny Cox/Runtime: 105 minutes

I think it is safe to say that film helmer Renny Harlin was looking like he was about to break into the big time following the directorial one-two punch he had consisting of not just the 2nd Die Hard film, but also the riveting Sly Stallone action-thriller Cliffhanger in that long ago time known as the 90s. Alas, it was not to be as we see that his career unfortunately floundered due to a series of entries in the Action genre that were truly mehhh at best. I mean don’t get me wrong: a film helmed by Harlin is not one that is void of any technical skill, I mean the guy is dependable in that he can create a movie that is both lively and nice to look at. Where he is not dependable is making a slice of cinematic pie that has both heart and a reason for existing, a pair of ingredients that are essential for a film even one in the horror genre of movie magic. As it is, Harlin’s filmography really seem to be full to the brim with massive scope, plenty of violence, and quite the shot of adrenaline, but these things can only do so much for a slice of cinematic pie. It is to that end that Harlin has become regarded as a film helmer who has one great movie to his credit, one good movie, and quite a few that could have been good or great, but tragically fell short on both counts. Put another way: Harlin is sort of a “Michael Bay Jr.” in that like Bay he is a helmer who knows the ins and outs of a slice of cinematic pie in the action genre better than quite a few helmers, but at the same time has the movies he makes rarely succeed beyond the bare minimum. This of course brings us to the movie I am reviewing for you guys today, 1999’s “intelligent shark” film Deep Blue Sea and this is a film that is filled to brim with energy, but doesn’t have much between its fins to make it any more than just a collection of well put together action beats. Put another way: this is par for the course for Harlin and as such Deep Blue Sea may be a good film when looking at the technical aspects, but it doesn’t have the resonance that it should by any stretch of the imagination either.

The plot is as follows: So according to this movie’s logic, it seems that if we as a species would like to locate a successful treatment for that infamous disease known as Alzheimer’s, one might just be located within a certain sea-residing critter that shows zero signs of losing their memory as they get older that we know as sharks. Suffice it to say then that a scientist by the name of Susan McCallister feels with all her scientific mind that if you give her enough cash, a few sharks who’re willing to sign some NDA’s, and a top-of-the-line research base, she could uncover a cure that can be given in one pill. To that end, we see her politely and firmly quasi-sorta invite a successful businessman in the world of pharmaceuticals by the name of Russell Franklin to come and spend the weekend at her isolated lab in the middle of the ocean where she promises to show him enough to secure extra funding. Upon arriving at her research base, we see that with the aid of a wrangler of some renown by the name of Carter Blake, she is able to get the sharks secured and the experiment is able to go as she had hopes with the material that is taken from the shark showing the pill is able to counter the effects of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately just as the shark is able to give, so is it able to take as well. To that end, we see that it is as celebrations are underway that things quickly go wrong in the form of not only one of the team having their arm taken off by a t’d off shark, but this ruthless and intelligent band of sharks proceeds to lay siege to the facility. Thus it is up to our intrepid group to attempt to survive both the facility giving way on them as well as the group of sharks that sooner or later are going to start picking them off one by one in this visceral world under the surface of the deep.

Now I guess I should just get this out of the way right now: Deep Blue Sea is a generic yet engaging slice of cinematic pie that is of the variety that you watch when you have a couple hours to kill and that you turn your brain off before deciding to press play. Yes, by this point in time that is a cliché, but then again so is this film seeing as it is built around what could have been a quite riveting narrative and operating on a few moments of suspense/terror in what is otherwise a film left adrift for about 1 hr and 45 minutes. For all intents and purposes this film is no more than set-up, shark shenanigans, humans try to get away, shark shenanigans, and so on as we see that those left standing are reduced typically every 20 minutes until we get a few left to try and duke it out with our razor-toothed menaces. I mean there really is no rhyme and reason to this slice of cinematic pie save for it to operate as ground level entertainment and a display for some blood, guts, and a few watered-down (pun intended) thrills. Of course don’t get me wrong: if that is what this film is aiming for that’s fine. I mean not everything desires to be in the Criterion Collection after all. At the same time though that does NOT mean this film could have tinkered with certain things in order to at least make it a better film period. I mean as it is, the only thing that really keeps this film from submerging completely is the technical skill Harlin brings to it. I mean, as to be expected, his movie both looks and sounds fairly well done, but even his skill behind the camera can’t completely save this particular slice of cinematic pie.

Heck even the unusually decent cast that this film manages to rope into doing this seem completely befuddled on what to do with this slice of cinematic pie’s run of the mill script and just general aura of predictability. I mean don’t get me wrong: Thomas Jane does bring a fair degree of energy, and LL Cool J did make me chuckle once or twice, but what does it say about a film when Samuel L. Jackson is in it and it just seems like even he is there to make some easy money? Indeed there are a few quite jarring moments in this film where it looks like the cast seemed to settle for delivering their lines as  monotonously as possible and as a result the aimless performances in this movie only manage to strengthen the movie’s run of the mill tone. Of course with how downright stupid and obnoxious these characters are it really is no wonder why most of the people I know who’ve seen this movie tell me they always cheer on the pack of sharks as they take some appendages and rip several people to shreds. Indeed I think those of you out there who are gonzo for gore will appreciate the film for the moments where appendages are torn off, but otherwise even the bloodhounds out there will be saddened by how the rest of the violence is adrift in the midst of CGI-effects that….aren’t the best to put it nicely. I mean you know your movie has problems when the granddaddy of all shark movies that is Jaws was made close to 25 years before this one has visual effects, a narrative, and a cast of characters that are all better done than this one even comes close to dreaming of being. Suffice it to say that while this film could have been better the norm if some TLC had been desperately applied to it, as it is it sadly isn’t anything that fans of the Sci-Fi, Action, Horror, or Creature Feature genres seen before thus making it for no more and no less than a curio note in the filmographies of all of those who were involved.

All in all fairly decent cast does not always a great movie make (logic that more movies than just this one could seriously stand to learn incidentally). Indeed as it was given to audiences I think it is relatively safe to say that the slice of cinematic pie known as Deep Blue Sea was a film that, by sheer design and just pure dumb luck in the guessing department on my part, was never one that was meant to be seen as trying to be better than perhaps the finest shark film of all time JAWS and was one that was trying to be just plain and simply good. Yet, despite its quite respectful desire I think it should be said that at the same time that this slice of cinematic pie is one that could really have been helped immensely had the finished product shown more of a desire to have a purpose for existing that went further than just operating as a collection of ever-escalating attacks by intelligent sharks against a group of purely idiotic people. Suffice it to say then that I personally feel that Deep Blue Sea is one slice of cinematic pie that might work its best magic if placed in a void. I say that because if you leave your brain turned off and just watch it to be entertained it tends to work 60% of the time every time, but if you are someone who firmly requests more from the movies that you watch….well you might want to look elsewhere. Might I recommend a little movie that a little-known film helmer by the name of Steven Spielberg did in 1975 called Jaws? I think that might just be the shark movie you are looking for…On a scale of 1-5 I give Deep Blue Sea “99” a solid 2.5 out of 5.