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A Shark Movie With Bite

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 1999

  Movie Critic


Deep Blue Sea
Genetically enhanced sharks prey on researchers in "Deep Blue Sea." (Warner Bros.)

Director:
Renny Harlin
Cast:
Samuel L. Jackson;
Saffron Burrows;
Thomas Jane;
LL Cool J;
Michael Rapaport;
Stellan Skarsgard;
Wayne Knight
Running Time:
1 hour, 45 minutes
R
Contains the treatment of humans as floating sea sushi, volatile bursts of blood and those heavy pronouncements about human arrogance in the awesome face of nature
"Deep Blue Sea" trades purely on our tendency to yell or sit bolt upright in our seats when a character is chomped into crimson meat by a 45,000-pound, genetically engineered shark.

Yep, another shark movie. And a shark movie that knows we've all seen "Jaws." That knows we're familiar with "Alien" and a billion other monster flicks in which a cluster of humans is caught in a godforsaken, claustrophobic place where an efficient killing machine, with a taste for human flesh, has decided it's time to clean house.

But "Deep Blue," which stars Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J, Saffron Burrows and some bionic studmuffin called Thomas Jane, puts playful spirit into the usual grind-house experience. This movie's entire raison d'etre (that's French for "shark meat") is to toy creatively with the "rules."

Jackson plays Russell Franklin, a financier who comes to check on his special project: the cultivation of protein from brain tissue in mako sharks – or something like that – so it can be used to combat brain-degenerative diseases.

Aquatica, the facility, is an oil-riggish fortress out in the ocean. And it seems top researcher, Dr. Susan McAlester (Burrows), assisted by her macho shark handler (Jane) and staff (including LL Cool J as an amusing chef), has been bending some of nature's rules. She has created three alpha sharks with awesome brain power, adaptability and an even greater desire and ability to kill. They're getting a little too perky for their own good.

As soon as we've gotten an architectural sense of the place, its sub-aquatic levels, its waterlocks and labyrinthine tunnels, and that enormous tank full of sharks in the bowels, things start going wrong. I won't give away who gets it, and in what order, but someone loses a vital piece of their anatomy early enough. But the rescue helicopter that comes to save the day develops "problems." A huge storm starts rocking the facility. Oh, and those crazy makos have decided it's show time.

Conceptually, this movie may be waterlogged, but it knows its audience and knows what'll get them going – and even wondering.

Who survives? Who doesn't? Is the company man treacherous? Who falls in love? And does the black guy always have to get killed early? These and other burning cliche-questions are tweaked and twisted, as the body count gets higher.

You can almost hear director Renny Harlin (a man who gives no quarter when it comes to goosing audiences) slapping his gut and guffawing, as people in the theater express – shall we say? – their appreciation.

Both filmmakers certainly shouldn't look at this movie as their finest two hours, but they have built something that, if nothing else, gives you a great big shock every few minutes. In the throes of summer, this is about as "Deep" as anyone should expect.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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