Written by: J.D. Feigelson and Chris Mack
Directed by: Charles Robert Carner
Starring: Lou Diamond Phillips, Kristy Swanson, and Coolio
Reviewed by: Brett G.
ĒFear strikes where you least expect it.Ē
If there was ever a surefire recipe for ďsuck,Ē it would have to be a made-for-television killer shark movie. I donít think I need to run down the less-than-illustrious history of the killer shark genre, and we all know how hit or miss made-for-TV horror can be. That didnít stop the producers of Red Water from trying though. The fruits of their efforts were unleashed back in 2003 with a pretty unavoidable ad campaign on TBS. If I had a dollar for every time an ad interrupted an Atlanta Braves broadcast that summer, Iíd probably have enough money to produce a Shark Attack sequel. As big of a shark nut as I am though, even I avoided it back then, if only because it would have pained me to see the mighty Lou Diamond Phillips fall so far. I recently came across the film at a local Movie Gallery that was going out of business and decided the price was right at $2. Even then, I couldnít shake the feeling that I might have overpaidÖ
John Sanders (Phillips) is a former oil rig worker who took up life as a Louisiana fisherman after a fatal accident. His estranged wife (Swanson), a marine biologist who consults with an oil company, contacts him out of the blue because heís apparently the only man who can pull off a new job. Facing monetary troubles, he and his partner, Emery, reluctantly agree. Meanwhile, a mobster type in the Virgin Islands has sent two thugs (Coolio and Van Ryan) to retrieve some stolen money that was dumped at the bottom of the same Louisiana river. The two groupsí paths cross when the thugs take Sanders and his crew hostage, but little do they know that theyíre all being circled by a huge bull shark thatís been terrorizing the river.
Amazingly enough, Red Water isnít as bad you might expect. Itís by no means good, but it isnít a laughable embarrassment, which is a huge victory within this particular sub-genre. I suppose the biggest problem is that itís not at all what youíd expect because the shark is pretty incidental to the film. There are some attacks that establish its presence early in the film, and it returns during the filmís last act, but the meat of the film involves the conflict between the crew and the thugs. It plays out more like a drama or a suspense thriller at that point, and itís okay at best. The film plays out in a pretty schizophrenic fashion with everything thatís going on. Iím not sure why filmmakers always feel the need to overly-complicate a killer shark film. In this case, it feels like the script for a shark movie and a crime drama were mashed up and thrown together. Just add Coolio, and you have Red Water.
The shark action itself is a mixed bag. Though the film was made for television, it carries an R-rating; in truth, the amount of carnage falls somewhere in between. Most of the attacks just involve the victim being pulled under the water, with their blood floating up. There is a severed limb at one point, but itís a relatively dry movie. This isnít an altogether bad thing because it sort of harkens back to what made Jaws effective: not exposing the shark too much. We see glimpses of it throughout the film, but it isnít seen too much until the end, which is the right way to go about it in a film like this. The shark is brought to life in the usual fashion: thereís an animatronic shark, documentary footage, and a smattering of CGI shots that are all too obvious. The mechanical fish is a good one, and was apparently the first one ever that could swim freely. For a low-budget TV movie, itís a surprisingly decent effort in that respect.
Otherwise, the film is a bit of a bore. The cast would have been considered strong if it had been made in the 80s or 90s, back when Phillips was known for his turn as Ritchie Valens in La Bamba, and Swanson was the vampire-slaying Buffy. Both fell pretty hard and fast for whatever reason, and here they are giving it their all. Phillips always has a natural charisma that I thought would surely make him a big star, and itís on display here. Swanson is decent, and Rob Boltin is likeable as Phillipsís right-hand-man. Coolio is barely tolerable and tries to chew up any of the scenery that the shark leaves behind. The film is pretty well put together--the photography is actually pretty nice to look at and makes good use of the Bayou setting. Thereís just some spark missing, which was no doubt never ignited by the script itself, which is just by the numbers and not very interesting.
There are some nice moments and ideas in there. For example, thereís an early scene where the crew visits Emeryís Cajun family, and he warns his friends that the shark itself might be a spirit of vengeance that has come to protect the bayou from drillers. Itís a pretty neat idea that admittedly sounds a bit clichť , but at least itís something that grabs your attention. Thereís also a cool Jaws reference in the film, as the Louisiana license plate that Hooper pulls out of the tiger shark shows up. Itís not much, but it at least shows everyoneís heart was in the right place. And, quite frankly, Iíll take this level of mediocrity over some of the other atrocities the shark genre has churned out.
So I suppose my two dollars were decently-spent, if anything. I canít say itís worth much more than that, but if you want to track down the DVD, Columbia Tri-Starís release is adequate. Thereís no special features, but the A/V presentation is pretty good. The transfer is 1.33:1, which I assume to be correct, given how many of the shots are framed. It looks good, if not a bit grainy, and the stereo soundtrack is similarly solid. If you really want to see the film, it probably is worth seeing on DVD because the television broadcasts are apparently cut. That said, you should probably really try to find it on the cheap like I did. If you canít find it at liquidation prices, adding it to your Netflix queue is probably an even better option. Rent it!
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