Written by: Eric Miller, Charles Bolon, and Jennifer Iwen
Written and Directed by: Griff Furst
Starring: Kristy Swanson, D.B. Sweeney and Robert Davi
Reviewed by: Brett G.
Terror has a new home.
Swamp Shark, the second entry in the “Kristy Swanson Battles Freshwater Sharks” saga, arrived eight years after the original Buffy and Lou Diamond Phillips dispatched of a rogue bull shark down in the bayou in Red Water. If there are rungs on the TV-movie ladder, I think you would say this entry was already a few steps down considering it debuted on the SyFy network rather than TBS, who actually sank a pretty decent budget (and an incessant ad campaign) into Red Water. SyFy, on the other hand, just applied their penny-pinching formula to Swamp Shark, which would have been about the 50th film in their line of bad creature features when it aired last June (I’m assuming that number is well into the 100s by now).
While the setting for Swamp Shark is never explicitly stated, it’s probably the Louisiana bayou again since there’s a “gator fest” and Jeff Chase is playing a slightly Cajun Jesse Ventura rip-off called “Swamp Thing.” Along with his two sisters, Krystal and Rachel (Sophie Sinise and Swanson), he operates a local restaurant and gator farm that ends up getting some bad press when the dismembered body of the town drunk gets fished out of the nearby drink. He’s been devoured by a giant, genetically mutated shark, but nobody believes that story, which is good for the crooked sheriff (Robert Davi) because he’s actually running the smuggling operation that accidentally loosed the shark in the first place.
Well, I’ll give Swamp Shark this: you know what you’re in for about five minutes in. By that point, you’ve seen Davi dodge a completely CGI trunk tank that spills into the river, so it’s not like you can have high hopes that the actual shark is going to be anything but a digital monstrosity, and it mostly is (save for some close-ups of a practical head). To everyone’s credit, the shark isn’t seen a whole lot regardless, so the shame is well-hidden, but the downside is Swamp Shark proceeding like it’s some kind of character piece or something. While the “we’ve gotta save our local dive by hunting down a rogue mutant shark” plot is pretty admirable on a silly level, it’s not like these SyFy movies have the best attention spans, so it ends up jumping around a bunch of other subplots for maximum shark attacks (though it still feels kind of light compared to stuff like Sharktopus).
One of these subplots involves D.B. Sweeny and Richard Tanne scrapping over Swanson’s affections; the latter is her boy toy/cook at the restaurant, while the former saunters in with literally no introduction as the band is heading off on their mini-Orca journey. Everyone gives a slight pause at this stranger showing up, but Sweeny shoots a tree with an arrow and everyone’s cool with him coming along with such a skill-set. It eventually turns out that he’s hoarding some secrets that result in a great moment where he wants to show off a mangled-up corpse to Swanson (that’ll win her over, bud). The other waste-of-space subplot involves the younger sister, Krystal, played with a cute vapidity by Sinise; she’s Gary’s daughter, but the only thing she has in common with her old man here is starring opposite of mentally-handicapped characters (though her character might be among that rank herself). Earlier in the film, she meets a couple of bros who invite her to a party on their boat, so she shows up to warn them that a giant shark might eat them; undeterred, they sail on and she comes along and spends the whole time buzz-killing it and insisting they head back to shore.
And of course, Davi’s out there wandering around doing his menacing, rapist sheriff thing (he’s also got a thing for Swanson, but don’t we all?). Further proof that Davi will show up for anything (I once saw him in an internet predator awareness video) but still give it his all, his turn here has a low-rent Tommy Lee Jones vibe that’s kind of cool. Plus, Wade Boggs is in his employ as a chicken-shit deputy in one of the most delightfully odd casting choices I’ve seen in a while. At any rate, let me pull the reigns back on Swamp Shark before I make it sound like more fun than it is; it has its moments, such as a ridiculous shark attack where another peeping tom deputy gets decapitated by the flying beast, but it’s mostly cheap, dull, SyFy Saturday Night fare. Most of the shark attacks amount to people falling into the water as a fin approaches, leaving blood to bubble up to the surface. Despite the pretty impressive cast, the characters are resigned to the stupidity of the script, which doesn’t forget the obligatory Jaws nods (you know there’s no way the damn Gator Fest is going to get shut down and condemn this place to a winter of starvation). Swamp Shark does at least devise an awesome method of dispatch for its title character, with the usual blow-it-to-shit method serving as a pretty funny punch line just before.
Still, the movie didn’t completely turn me off to this particular sub-genre. I hope Swanson will sign up for another one at some point, and maybe it’d be cool to see her old buddy LDP show up again. These goddamn fish need to learn to avoid the bayou because it turns out Buffy’s a pretty good shark hunter too (I think her character is even meant to have psychic powers in this since she's inexplicably awakened in the dead of night when a nearby attack occurs). Swamp Shark got a barebones DVD release to compliment its barebones budget, but the presentation is pretty decent--the transfer is anamorphic, and the 5.1 track is pretty lively. In the greater canon of SyFy movies, it’s in the middle of the pack, and in the even greater killer shark canon, it’s swimming around in a big, scary tank of poorly rendered computer-animated mediocrity. Rent it!
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