A case can be made for cheese that does what it’s supposed to do. I can’t imagine wanting to see Deep Blue Sea again, but as a one-time-only, low-expectation, Sunday-afternoon diversion, it kept me amused. The movie, as you may have gathered, is about superfast, supersmart sharks. Think how long it’s been since you saw a shark-attack movie; I mean, this subgenre didn’t deserve to end with Jaws: The Revenge. Right from the start, when a comely young woman dips her foot into the dark ocean and we get one of those ominous shark’s-eye views of the wiggling tootsies, I settled in cheerfully for an $80 million Roger Corman movie. About the only thing missing is gratuitous T & A, though there is a moment when a female character strips down to her bra and panties in the midst of a particularly stressful shark encounter. This same woman also gets to deliver dialogue like “She may be the world’s smartest animal, but she’s still an animal.” Movies like Deep Blue Sea just make me irrationally happy, and I smiled all the way through it; it brought out the part of me that likes beer, pizza, and drive-in movies.
Somewhere out in the middle of the ocean, a crew of scientists led by Saffron Burrows (the one who so obligingly strips) is making sharks’ brains bigger so they can find a cure for Alzheimer’s. One wonders why they didn’t opt to enlarge the brain of a relatively harmless animal like a kitten (perhaps because nobody would go see an $80 million summer movie about superfast, supersmart kittens on the rampage). It hardly even matters why they’re messing around with sharks; we just want to get to the part where the sharks start using their superior IQs, which apparently enable them to bash through steel doors (didn’t I read somewhere that the most sensitive part of a shark is its nose?) and leap out of the water like Shamu to eat someone who’s in the middle of a dreary monologue.
The cast includes Samuel L. Jackson, fast becoming the new Michael Caine, as the moneybags who’s financing the experiments; Thomas Jane (the jittery would-be drug dealer in Boogie Nights) as a shark wrangler so macho he grabs hold of a Mako’s fin and rides the critter like a bronco; LL Cool J as a cook who’s so certain he’s going to die (he must be a horror-movie fan who knows the rule that black characters usually die first) that he’s one of the few characters you figure is going to live; and Michael Rapaport, the movie’s designated Guy Who Just Wants to Get the Fuck Outta Here. They mostly take a back seat to the real stars — the computer-generated sharks who move like lightning through the black water, occasionally grabbing an understandably dismayed person and playing “Make a Wish.” If the comparatively low-tech Jaws movies left you wondering exactly what a human being might look like when being gnawed to pieces by a pair of razor-toothed sharks, Deep Blue Sea has the answer.
The movie is a coarse ’90s version of Jaws, and you may miss the suspense and virtuosity that resulted from Steven Spielberg’s not really having a shark that worked properly; he was forced to reveal his monster in bits and pieces, whereas Renny Harlin, who does the honors here, has sharks that can convincingly swim right up and devour people (the victims are also computer-generated). If you wanted to be grouchy about it, you could use Deep Blue Sea as a textbook example of how special effects have killed any sense of mystery at the movies (actually, Exhibit A should be 1999’s The Haunting), but I don’t quite have the heart to be grouchy about it. There’s a darkly funny, Starship Troopers-ish sadism to the sharks, who are relentlessly in your face; if they see you, chomp, game over, man.
Renny Harlin is a top-notch assembler of B movies with A budgets — I enjoyed his Cutthroat Island and The Long Kiss Goodnight far more than I probably should’ve — and he works with efficiency and purpose. You’re in and out in 100 minutes, you see what you came to see, and you forget it half an hour later. But what the hell. To paraphrase Saffron Burrows, it may not be the world’s smartest shark movie, but it’s still a shark movie.