The Deep Blue Sea (1999) -****
The Deep Blue Sea is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in years. I mean it. Now, mind you, it’s not really supposed to be funny, but howling with laughter is the only response to this movie that makes any sense at all. This is a film in which the best performance is put in by a fucking parrot! How could you possibly take it seriously?
The movie begins with one of only two scenes in which it fails to adhere rigidly to cliche. Some people are out on a boat, having a party of sorts. The fact that the camera repeatedly shifts to a point-of-view shot underwater should be triggering the neurons that remember the opening scene of every single Jaws movie right about now. Sure enough, some large thing bumps into the boat’s hull, and one of the women says, “Did you feel something?” just like she does in all killer-marine-life movies. And sure enough, a big-ass shark starts tearing up the boat to get at the people on board. “Just a minute, El Santo,” you say, “didn’t you just tell us that this scene ‘fails to adhere rigidly to cliche?’” As a matter of fact, I did, and just when the boat has been almost completely destroyed and it seems that the people aboard can’t possibly survive, the shark gets hit in the side of the head by a couple of tranquillizer harpoons, and is hauled aboard another boat that just appeared out of nowhere.
And now, the real movie begins. The shark, we learn, was an experimental animal (what?!), specially bred to be extra-big and to have an extra-big brain, even more so than its greater size overall would require. And just who is breeding these sharks, and more importantly, why? Some big pharmaceutical corporation, owned by Samuel L. Jackson, of course. One of their scientists is doing cutting-edge research into a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and apparently the screenwriter read an article somewhere that said sharks seem never to get cancer, and said to himself, “cancer, Alzheimer’s-- what’s the difference?” The aforementioned scientist, portrayed without the merest shred of believability by Saffron Burrows, has discovered the protein in sharks’ brains that prevents them from getting canc... no wait, Alzheimer’s, but the only problem is that shark brains are just too small to generate the protein in sufficient quantities to be useful for research. Now, Burrows lost her father to Alzheimer’s, see, so she’s on a crusade, and thus doesn’t see how fucking stupid it is to breed a pack of king-sized, super-intelligent uber-makos in order to get really huge shark brains. Shit, man, hasn’t she ever heard of basking sharks or whale sharks? Right off the shelf, they’re as big as Burrows’s giant makos, and they eat nothing but plankton. But then, I suppose anybody who wants to watch a movie about basking sharks swimming around in circles with their mouths open could just turn on the Discovery Channel, couldn’t they? All right, point taken-- 45-foot makos it is.
Anyway, the drug company has this big floating research station which supposedly started out being an artificial harbor for submarines, built by the U.S. Navy during World War II (don’t even get me started on this one). Samuel L. Jackson flies out to the station to supervise the work after he gets wind of the attack on the boaters-- after all, that sort of thing makes his company look really bad. There’s a whole lot of boring part, during which we are introduced to the rest of the so-called characters, including some faceless scientist types, an ex-smuggler shark wrangler (Thomas Jane, from Nemesis and Buffy the Vampire Slayer), his buddy whom I know I’ve seen in a bunch of other crappy films, the fat woman up in the control tower, Preacher the cook (LL Cool J), and his imaginatively named parrot, Bird. Some background information about Jackson’s character comes out (he was a mountaineer who saved a bunch of people’s lives when he and they were caught in an avalanche), some feeble attempts are made to establish some kind of sexual tension between Burrows and the shark wrangler, and everybody in the audience suddenly develops an interest in what time it is. Then most of the station’s crew flies home for the weekend, and a storm moves in to set the stage for all the shark attacks for which we have been waiting with diminishing patience.
The action begins when a routine protein extraction goes awry, and the shark bites the arm off one of the scientists. The next fifteen minutes or so seem to suggest that the sharks were plotting this all along. Our three experimental makos (two generation ones and one generation two, whatever that means) apparently know the storm is coming, and have devised a way to use it to their people-eating advantage. Naturally, a medevac helicopter has to be called for the wounded scientist, and naturally, the weather is much too bad for the chopper to land, so instead, they attach the man’s gurney to a hook-and-winch apparatus with the intention of hoisting him aboard in flight. And apparently, the sharks know something about medevac practice and procedure, because one of them-- probably the really huge gen-2-- is there, waiting to grab the hanging gurney and use the steel cable to drag the helicopter into the control tower, setting off a series of explosions that has the whole place burning in no time at all. The shark-- the tricky, tricky shark-- then lobs the gurney into the picture window that separates the pressurized underwater laboratory space from the ocean, shattering said window, and setting in motion the progressive flooding of the station, not incidentally allowing the sharks to enter. From this point on, the movie consists of alternating sequences in which the characters flee expensively from either floodwater or CGI sharks, inevitably splitting up so that they can be eaten one at a time. The sharks, too, are killed one by one, by the same methods used to kill the sharks in the first three Jaws movies-- in the same order no less! (Explosion, electrocution, explosion.)
All that remains to be said about The Deep Blue Sea is to look out for the following delightful stupidities. How does Burrows escape from the flooded room into whose waters she has just tossed a live electrical cable? How does Preacher walk after being bitten in the hip by a 45-foot shark? How does the shark wrangler get away from the exploding shark when the dynamite harpoon is sticking through his leg? Finally, be on the lookout for Samuel L. Jackson’s death scene. I won’t tell you how he buys it, but it comes completely without warning, and it had me laughing out loud for a good 20 seconds, despite the bewildered and disapproving stares from seemingly everyone in the theater. That scene alone was worth the price of admission. But I should probably point out that I saw this at the dollar-fifty theater.