Bigger, Smarter, Faster and Meaner is “Deep Blue Sea” in the grand fashion of Saturday afternoon movies, those 90 minute escape ship rides from the here and now of what ails you or just gets in the way of good times to anything goes – and sure as hell better! You can’t go in with any real seriousness or you’re going to end up the proverbial seal belly ripe for Jaws to take you down for a snack in Davy Jones locker. The concept of smart sharks in retaliation mode should be all the preparation you need – no sense picking it to the bones – this is straight frontal-cortex-Jello-mold mode, fill it up and deaden the senses with sugary soda pop and float. Don’t forget the butter for your corn. Sitting down to be critical about sharks that turn the mouse trap maze around on their keepers is the kind of retaliation fantasy we don’t get enough of these days. Have fun, that didn’t used to be so hard. For all the shark movies in all the deep sea voyages in the world, the sweet hereafter in “Deep Blue Sea” is living it up in the moment and being OK with forgetting it by morning. Send picky for a walk and leave critical in the car.
Giant shark movies always take me back to the flat ground of my central California childhood, the chance to leave the San Joaquin valley and hitch a ride to far-far away, square off in Black Belt Theater for another Drunken Master Kung-Fu hour or even better – make the ocean voyage-colored action flick in the black & blue of my imagination and replace all seriousness for a couple of hours. It was easy back then to lose touch with mornings, slide orange afternoons into evening, replace challenges with a little necessary movie kind of ridiculous. I can still remember the television time too, the series around and after Battle of the Network Stars with Howard Cosell and Telly Savalas – Jimmy Walker and Elinor Donahue, Loretta Swit and Ron Howard – way back before all this reality television crap. Now I don’t feel that same kind of pure escapism, the inner forever child battling the movie critic and filmmaker set on hard, biting criticism. I guess it’s not so much the movies have changed but the time I’ve got to give them, reminding myself it’s OK to have some senseless entertainment reviews based on the power to escape while forgiving the endless mistakes. So when I found the “Deep Blue Sea” the other day, the escape ship plan came right back – time to be a kid and be free, worry less and enjoy more and leave the serious review for the next movie.
A good deal of what makes “Deep Blue Sea” work is great casting, your typical action setup scenario populated with the very best character actors of the time, this was 1999 after all and still do. You can always spot that clawing for the spotlight in their eyes or the urgency to find their next paycheck – anything to just to hang on to relevance as younger, prettier, more bankable comes along. Everyman character actor Thomas Jane (Face/Off, The Thin Red Line, The Punisher) –> Jane was also in “I Melt With You” and this is my review. He’s the perfect front man with a spear gun and devilish good looks – he’s everything we expect and take for granted as the strong-willed but doomed researcher who will lead and fail his crew of cohorts. Next is the beautiful and flawed soul of the doctor without limits played by Saffron Burrows (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, My Own Worst Enemy, Boston Legal) and of course science and evil hitman du jour Stellan Skarsgard fills every role with equal bits of confidence, charisma and damaged goods simmering beneath the surface. I don’t know about you, but Aida Turturro is always going to be Tony’s sister in the Sopranos. Our favorite side man Michael Rapaport (93 film & television credits and counting) is the perfect Foil to Sam Jackson’s considerably more reserved (than his usual roles) as the financier with motive to die for – he’ll go on work with Renny in several other movies and enter, as so many others have, the status of pop culture icon with plenty of spotlight to go around. The same for L.L who is a big television star today, hamming it up as has become a sort of alter ego all its own. The cast is all brought together in convincing tones of believable action and acceptable melodramatic reactions with enough interesting twists and turns to make the film stand out amongst a sea of lesser competitors.
Master of the corporate commercial and blockbusters of equal success and utter ruin, Hollywood’s most successful Finnish director in history, champion of Samuel L. Jackson and the man who brought us A Nightmare on Elm Street 4:The Dream Master, Die Hard 2, Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Exorcist: The Beginning, a chunk of the Burn Notice T.V. series – then just sort of faded into the wasteland of semi-popular television again – Renny Harlin has been around long enough to keep going, but it’s unclear whether he’ll return to any inkling of his former glory. For the time being, “Deep Blue Sea” is as spectacular as one might expect, a story about our desperate pursuit to fix what ails us at all costs – life no longer the greatest expense but for the loss of our own morality and the ability to know the difference.
The story is effective enough as in all big budget productions full of effects and great set pieces, though the level of realism produced by Production Designers Joseph Bennett and William Sandell goes a very long way beyond simple green believable from a million miles inside a computer. There’s just something about actual locations with real practical sets and effects that undermines any real success with CGI, however clever, however effective in background, landscape variations on themes of grandeur.
“Deep Blue Sea” suffers from the usual discouraging percentages and dull numbers found in most aggregators, hardly useful really except to portray the fleeting indifference of categorized, commoditized and bucket-half-empty kinda reviews. You are best to find your own way into this movie, whether just a passing fancy between things you’re supposed to be doing but aren’t, an adolescent indulgence, or just plain fun for all the right/wrong or wrong/right reasons. This is that film that should and quite nicely does take us away for a little while – the only true success of escapist cinema, however perfect or flawed. Movie reviewers and critics reach a point where a wounded film comes along at just the right moment in time that it gets away with you, the fun quotient that satisfies enough to leave a taste in your mouth you don’t mind sticking around. It’s times like this when I can almost hear myself say, “..let yourself enjoy it and then describe it as Jaws 2.0 but better – two sharks that menace for the price of one”.
The next time you’re feeling anxious about a movie you need to be able to sink down in your sofa cushions with, way down beneath your troubles on Mean Street, “Deep Blue Sea” entertains at levels of OK next to entirely up to you.