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Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Rated R

Starring: Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson, and LL Cool J

Rating:
**1/2
out of
*****

Ever since Jaws turned sharks into Mother Nature's ultimate villain, countless attempts have been made to cash in on their appeal to moviegoers. Whether it be the three sequels to the original Jaws, which degraded in quality with each outing, or 1980's now impossible-to-find virtual remake of Jaws, Great White, each shark movie has basically explained the aggressive behavior of the shark in natural terms. These movies would have you believe that sharks are man-eaters by design. Deep Blue Sea, from action director Renny Harlin, puts man into the equation. What if man altered sharks and made them smarter and, therefore, deadlier?

The movie's premise is that a group of scientists working on a cure for Alzheimer's disease have taken sharks and altered their brain size to produce a chemical that can revitalize dead brain cells. Sharks, the scientists claim, never get cancer and never lose any brain function as they age. Led by Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows), the scientists are put under pressure to produce results when one of their test sharks escapes and menaces a group of teenagers. This unwelcome publicity puts the investment of Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) in jeopardy, so he decides to accompany McAlester to her isolated floating laboratory to supervise what might be the final tests of her theories regarding the sharks' ability to fight the disease.

Shortly after Franklin and McAlester return to the lab, a huge tropical storm throws the facility into disarray. One of the test sharks injures a scientist and a medical helicopter is called to take him back to the mainland. Flying through the turbulent conditions, the copter ends up crashing into the lab, damaging a large portion of it and causing some major flooding. The flooding provides the sharks an opportunity to enter the now half-sunken research base, even allowing them to swim along the corridors of the crippled facility to pursue their intended prey.

This movie is a welcome change of pace from most "evil shark" movies because it tries to paint an accurate picture of what real sharks can and cannot do. Even though the test sharks are permitted to do things no real shark can do, the characters in this movie are smart enough to know the difference and react accordingly. A big "thumbs up" is awarded for that alone. However, even though the characters are shark-wise, they certainly aren't very interesting as people. Russell Franklin, as played by Samuel L. Jackson, is given an opportunity to flesh his character out with a back story involving an avalanche he has survived. LL Cool J's Preacher is good for comedic value, with his struggle to remain in God's good graces. The rest of the scientists are the usual group of nobodies that end up in situations like these. Even with a cast including the likes of Michael Rapaport (Cop Land) and Thomas Jane (Boogie Nights), these characters simply aren't interesting. We're never really given much beyond sketchy outlines of who they're supposed to be or what they're really doing at this lab.

The shark effects are definitely the main attraction of the film. Blending live-action animatronics that are light years beyond the clunky mechanical shark of Jaws with computer animation, the film produces sharks that are both scary and realistic. Unfortunately, the effects aren't on-screen enough to prop up the weak characters and rather creaky script. Renny Harlin's directing isn't bad and he does produce some genuine scares, but he's not given much to work with and ends up with a movie with no real bite. (Sorry.)

Deep Blue Sea is worth a rental for the effects and the few scares it produces, but it will ultimately leave you unsatisfied.

Trivia: Thomas Jane appeared as Xeph in 1992's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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