Shark Attack (1999)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-08-01 08:36

Written by: Scott Devine, William Hooke
Directed by: Bob Misiorowski
Starring: Casper Van Dien, Jenny McShane, and Ernie Hudson

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

“I'm glad I fed your brother to the sharks."

Conventional wisdom holds that franchises get weaker as they lurch on, but you’ve gotta throw that shit out when dealing with shark movies. That’s good news for the poor bastard who decides to marathon the Shark Attack series since his experience will actually improve as the series evolves from low budget, weirdly self-serious nonsense to completely self-aware, over-the-top lunacy. Of course, the best thing about this particularly series is that the films (including semi-official entry Shark Zone) aren’t connected at all, so one could (and perhaps should) skip straight to Shark Attack 3, a film that might be memorable for all the wrong reasons—but at least you’ll never forget it. The same can’t be said for Nu Image’s first dip into these waters, as the original Shark Attack truly deserves to be forgotten by time.

It ships audiences off to a tiny African fishing village, where marine biologist Steven McKray (Casper Van Dien) is investigating a rash of shark attacks after a colleague’s untimely demise. Reluctantly teamed-up with the deceased’s sister (Jenny McShane), McKray uncovers a colorful local scene: a village left impoverished in the wake of the attacks, a group of island-dwelling shark worshippers, and former comrade Miles Craven (Bentley Mitchum), who has been conducting experiments on the shark population. The two quickly discover that Craven’s work has resulted in genetically modified sharks that have been driven to kill.

There must have been something in the water in 1999, as both Shark Attack and Deep Blue Sea were centered on well-intentioned shark science gone wrong. Where the scientists in Renny Harlin’s blockbuster were concerned with treating Alzheimer’s, Shark Attack’s oblivious brain trust aims to cure cancer, which would be a noble goal if it weren’t featured in a film that’s only mildly better than a cancer diagnosis. I’d dub Shark Attack the Deep Impact to Deep Blue Sea’s Armageddon, but that’d be unkind to Deep Impact. Instead, this is more or less what it might have been like if the Asylum were in the mockbuster business back in ’99 because Nu Image produced a totally generic, off-brand thriller that’s barely trying. Oddly enough, it even anticipates the Asylum model by bringing in a couple of recognizable faces in Van Dien (at the tail end of his 15 minutes) and Ernie Hudson, who is relegated to playing a shady hotel mogul with a vague, unfortunate accent.

Unlike Asylum productions, this one at least stays within its means, for better or worse. Shark Attack doesn’t lean on egregiously lazy CGI (perhaps only because it might have still been too expensive at the time) but instead relies on stock footage and the occasional phony model for its attack sequences. In this respect, the film plays like shark porn, as the characters keep finding ways to get into the water in order to queue up another round of documentary material that might otherwise be found on TV during Shark Week. The sequences would be harrowing if it were possible to give a damn about anyone involved, but you’re mostly just hoping for the sharks to win out so the screen will be splashed with gore. Unfortunately, the closest the film comes to this is a couple of post-mortem, autopsy sequences that find Craven and his men fishing out some half-devoured limbs from some sharks’ bellies.

In fact, Shark Attack isn’t really much of a killer shark movie at all, and it does something that seems a little commendable in theory: rather than degenerate into a limp series of dull shark attacks, it actually throws itself into a plot. Of course, the plot winds up being inane, convoluted, and comes to a head with everyone standing around while the film’s real villain explains what he’s really been up to the entire time (Hackman’s Lex Luthor would no doubt approve of this ridiculous land-grabbing scheme). In between, car chases and shootouts (complete with crashes and fiery explosions) erupt once Van Dien and McShane get caught up in the conspiratorial nonsense. If you were to relay certain points of Shark Attack out of context—the confrontations with natives, the gregarious sidekick that helps out the heroes, the weepy cancer ward interludes—it might sound kind of fun (if not a little bonkers). However, Bob Misiorowski directs with little style and even less energy to completely suck the fun out of the proceedings.

As such, Shark Attack is just a bad, boring movie that did nothing to improve the reputation of the killer shark genre. Instead, it now feels like a prototype for the hordes of direct-to-video shark movies that are still circling rental shelves to this day. I guess it’s not quite on the level of cynical, ironically-crafted crap like Sharknado, but it’s almost just as uninspired—the only difference here is that it doesn’t readily make itself available as the butt of a joke (even though there are a few unintentionally absurd moments). Trimark unceremoniously dumped it on a passable DVD that features a decent full-frame transfer (it’s a little too sharp at times) and an adequate stereo track; the disc is so old that it boasts interactive menus, subtitles, and chapter selection as special features (they really did seem special back then!). I doubt anyone’s been clamoring for a special edition release in the 14 years since its release, so this is likely as good as it gets for Shark Attack. As for that franchise marathon idea? Maybe it’s best to do it like I did: in reverse, spread out over four years. Only then will you value the third film’s brain-damaged brand of stupid—I still remember large chunks of that one, while the original has all but evaporated from my mind in less than 24 hours. Trash it!

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