THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Directed by Renny Harlin
“The perfect mix? Nah. Yet it works its ass off to entertain.”
You know, Sam L. Jackson sure does die a lot. It’s something I never really thought about until I decided to write about Deep Blue Sea, THAT shark movie from back in ‘99. That death in particular always stuck out in my mind. Why? Well, maybe it was because he was the lone true name star of thing. Maybe it’s because it was unexpected. Or maybe it’s just because one big ass giant CGI shark eats him while delivering his big speech. He wasn’t even in the water. But then I remembered Jackie Brown. Then Star Wars. Then Lakeview Terrace. Then the Other Guys. At last count, dude has died in 17 movies.
Wow. I mean, wow.
That’s a lot of mother f*cking corpses. He’s been shot by just about every actor out there. He’s been sliced with a light saber and even eaten by a dinosaur. Out of all those demises, however, it’s Deep Blue Sea that rises to the top of the Sam death pile. Why? Because it’s a movie that I’ve always had a fondness for. Yeah, I know it’s a big dumb summer flick and it’s just another Jaws wannabe, but so what. The movie has a hell of a cast, a decent plot, and an R rating with plenty of gore to satisfy. And that’s something I both miss and appreciate from Hollywood.
Now I understand why folks don’t care much for Deep Blue Sea. It’s preposterous, over the top, and flat out stupid most of the time. The effects don’t really hold as the shark, in certain scenes, is painfully fake. Worst of all, LL Cool J as the religious chef gets obnoxious fast. Seriously, what the hell where the producers thinking. He should have been ashamed of himself to playing into every stereotype possible for the character. However, the good still outweighs the shit, allowing it to float to the top if you give the movie another chance.
First, take another look at the cast. Yeah, so a lot of movies with impressive casts end up a shit sandwich, but here you got the previously mentioned Ordell Robbie himself and LL Cool J with his sassy parrot, but then there’s Tom Jane (in perhaps his biggest role at the time), Tony Soprano’s sister, Michael “Annoying” Rapport, Stellan Skarsgard, and some chick named Saffron Burrows. Ok, maybe the list isn’t as impressive as I thought. But stick with me because Deep Blue Sea does a damn good job combining a lot of good movies. It has a big bite of Jaws, some Poseidon Adventure, a lot of Frankenstein, and a hint of Psycho. The perfect mix? Nah. Yet it works its ass off to entertain, and I give a lot of the credit to director Renny Harlin, who has always had a keen eye for action. The man knows how to throw together action, suspense, and all that shit. Even if you hate his movies, no one can deny he can pull off action. The guy just needs the right people to keep him in check.
Over a decade after its release, Deep Blue Sea still works with plenty of good, effective scenes. Example A: the storm sequence where they attempt to send Stellan (he plays a scientist, go figure) up on a helicopter during a storm. Poor guy has his arm ripped off then just can’t stay away from the man-eating shark as the helicopter predictably goes down. Example B: Mr. Cool J being chased by a shark through the hallways. Yep, it is stupid to the point it hurts, but it plays so damn well. It’s memorable. It’s suspenseful. And it looks good. Example C: the escape up the hatch. It works and you can’t ask for more.
But my favorite moment remains any part with Sam. He’s got a memorable line (“Someone tell what that is, please.”). He’s the stable force that keeps the movie grounded. The one who propels the movie.
Yes, Jane plays the hero but he lacks the screen charisma that Jackson has. When I watched it again recently I thought he died in the first act. But no. He makes it a full hour which makes his death all that more memorable and shocking. Most people probably didn't see it coming. After all, the shark eats him just as he was defining his character, explaining the “avalanche” story. That’s what made it work though. You never expected it, which made it such a better flick than most give it credit for.