Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Directed by Renny Harlin

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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In order to find a cure for Alzheimer's, Dr. Susan McCallister (Saffron Burrows) is conducting experiments on three genetically modified sharks, whose intelligence she has greatly increased. Regrettably, shortly after Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson), a representative of the corporation funding her work, arrives at her research facilities, which are located in the middle of the Pacific, the sharks get loose, damage the station so that it starts to sink into the ocean, and begin hunting the surviving members of the crew.

Renny Harlin's Deep Blue Sea is a formulaic but genuinely involving action thriller.

I will concede that virtually every person who watches the movie will be able to foresee the events the director depicts, and most will probably be able to guess exactly which characters are going to survive within a short time of their being introduced. Despite such predictability, however, Harlin has actually crafted a fun and exciting tale. The intelligent sharks are fearsome. The characters' predicament is frightening, and the various deadly situations is which they find themselves are sometimes even exhilarating.

While the means employed by the director to create these moments of excitement or fear are often hackneyed or even contrived, they are, nonetheless, frequently effective. Several of these occurrences even benefit from being expected. The viewer may well realize while watching a given scene that the sharks are about to attack, but his awareness that some character is about to be gruesomely killed creates a sense of dread that contributes to the film's effectiveness. Because the moviegoer knows a shark is waiting for the heroes in some particular pool or will leap from the water at a certain point, he is often more frightened when the animal appears than he would have been had its appearance surprised him. Moreover, Harlin adds to such anticipated thrills a few that are not, and the presence of these prevents the viewer from ever relaxing.

Despite its virtues, I should add that Deep Blue Sea is hardly inspired and is burdened with a number of faults. While its predictability is sometimes effective, it can also be tiresome. Visually, the movie is never distinguished, and the screenplay is, frankly, somewhat awkward. What is more, the cleverness of the sharks is consistently overplayed. Not only have they been made more intelligent, but they have also, apparently, been provided with blueprints of the research station in which they were being kept, classes on human psychology and military tactics, and even with instructions on how to communicate abstract ideas.

Fortunately, the performances of the actors are, for the most part, decent. While a number of the players bring nothing original to their characters, and others are somewhat clumsy, most are still able to engage the viewer. Saffron Burrows does a good job of transforming her initially likeable character into a far less pleasant though never despicable individual. Thomas Jane provides, in his portrayal of Carter Blake, a "shark wrangler" who eventually emerges as the film's protagonist, a stereotypical but enjoyable hero, and LL Cool J is sympathetic as a devout, formerly alcoholic cook. He even manages to provide the film with a few genuinely funny comic moments.

I cannot say that Deep Blue Sea is likely to awe many viewers, but it is a surprisingly fun and exciting movie.

Review by Keith Allen

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