Written by: Clyde McCoy, Antonio Olivias, and Fred Olen Ray
Directed by: Fred Olen Ray
Starring: John Schneider, Sarah Lieving, and Jimmie Walker
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"I need a drink."
"I need a drink."
The past five years or so have been a bewildering time for killer shark movie enthusiasts (you know, all 17 of us). On the one hand, studios are cranking these things out at a historic clip: nearly as many have been produced during this time period than during the previous 30 years combined. On the other, anyone who’s been paying attention knows this is all very bittersweet because it’s exceedingly rare when anyone involved with these films actually tries. During the course of this run, the killer shark genre has practically birthed a sub-sub-genre that revels in badness with a cinematic language all its own; say what you want, but these efforts are immediately recognizable and almost remarkable in their uniformity.
Stretching across multiple production companies—from The Asylum to Syfy—they’re almost impossible to tell apart anymore, even when they’re helmed by someone like Fred Olen Ray, who was once one of our most idiosyncratic and great Z-movie auteurs. That he’s stuck directing the likes of Super Shark is depressing enough—that he’s able to do nothing to separate it from the Mega Sharks and Sharknadoes of the world is even worse.
How often can you describe something as ripping off The Asylum? That’s what we have on our hands here, and Super Shark doesn’t even have the courtesy to add any sort of weirdness to the concept. Instead, it’s all right there in a title: a giant, mutated shark has emerged in the wake of an oil drilling accident and has set itself to wreaking havoc on a beach. Its super-ness includes practically having armor for skin, an ability to leap out the water, and being really fucking big. Also, it can inch its way far enough onto the shore to devour anyone who happens to be within reach of his massive, CGI maw.
You could argue that Super Shark is a victim of bad timing. Arriving just as the Sharktopuses and 2-headed sharks were beginning to surface, it can’t help but feel like a quaint imitator. This might be this era’s legacy more than anything: it’s simply not enough to have a giant fucking shark anymore: you have to go bigger and bigger, no matter how ridiculous or stupid it might be. Truly, nothing is more American than this genre. Poor Super Shark is so inadequate by comparison, and its only recourse would have been to swim into the rare waters of quality, where few killer shark movies dare to tread anymore.
But we know that’s never an option. Why would it be when you can just pluck the latest model off of an assembly line at an economical price with little effort? Super Shark adheres ruthlessly to an already stale mold: as is customary, it roves between various subplots and characters, most of them disposable, all of them awful. When we’re not dealing with the love triangle drama unfolding between lifeguards, we’re watching a bikini contest, where the winners mercifully win a one-way ticket into the shark's digestive tract. Taking delight in even this is virtually impossible, though, since the bloodletting amounts to the digital shark head jutting into the frame and leaving a trail CGI blood spatter. Like so many of its contemporaries, Super Shark is a cartoon in denial, and you have to wonder if these films wouldn’t somehow be more successful if they went fully animated; of course, then audiences wouldn’t gifted a smug sense of superiority by watching shoddy effects interact with flat, digital photography.
Super Shark and its ilk feel engineered to assure its audience that it’s better than the film they’re watching. They need not engage it beyond its surface level badness, which lays itself so bare that it can’t be missed. It’s not a movie—it’s just flickering images meant to trigger the laugh track in a brain that’s otherwise been turned off. At one point, this might have seemed like a novelty, at least when such efforts were well-calibrated exercises in camp; now, the market has been so flooded that we’re drowning in irony. I hardly need to note that the main through-line in Super Shark—which finds OIB (that’s “Ocean Investigative Bureau,” obviously) agent and marine biologist Catherine Carmichael (Sarah Lieving) investigating a corrupt oil company—is a thinly-laid pretense meant to shuttle the film from one shark sequence to another, each more groan-inducing than the last. It’s supposed to be that way, you know.
Likewise, we’re supposed to chuckle at the likes of John Schneider and Jimmie Walker, both of whom drop in for a few scenes each (with Schneider’s arc especially being glossed over and practically forgotten) despite top billing. Walker is the closest Super Shark comes to finding anything that would make it uniquely identifiable, and even then he’s only playing a DJ who spits his famous “dyn-o-mite” catchphrase a few times. It’s funny because we recognize it from Good Times and now it’s butting up against a movie featuring a giant shark, right? Christ. I would call Super Shark some kind of nadir for the genre, but I think it might consider it a compliment. Maybe it’s more productive to call it what it is: a disappointment. Sure, maybe we shouldn’t have expectations for something called Super Shark, but that’s the problem—we should want more out of a Fred Olen Ray movie where giant tanks do battle with a prehistoric megalodon. That's the price you pay for having directed Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.
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