Written by: Gabe Burnstein & David Anderson
Directed by: Jerry Dugan
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Sara Malakul Lane, and Lily Brooks O'Briant
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"Who's ever heard of a shark in a lake?"
By now, my exhaustion with shark movies not involving Blake Lively or Mandy Moore is well documented, but if thereís any pitch that could overcome that, itíd surely be ďDolph Lundgren vs. Sharks.Ē Thatís the hook for the unimaginatively titled Shark Lake, which has the further appeal of not hailing from either Syfy or The Asylum, thus putting it on my good side. Well, for a few minutes, anyway, since thatís about all the time it takes to realize this one isnít too terribly far removed from those ranks, eventually sinking so low that even Dolph Fucking Lundgren canít save it. May we all rest easy knowing weíll probably never fuck up that badly, so at least Shark Lake is good for that reassurance, if nothing else.
Because Iím going to be real: there is really little else redeeming about this one. No, itís not the outlandishly, intentionally bad stuff thatís nearly killed this genre, but it might somehow be worse since itís such a bore. As much as Iíd like to give it credit for trying to be an actual movie, itís too dull and lacking in resources to even remotely pull it off, so itís pretty much a wash. The premise isnít too bad: Lundgren is Clint Gray, a black market exotic animals dealer who gets busted and sent away to prison, leaving behind a small daughter and a bull shark he let into the lake. One of the arresting deputies (Sarah Lane) takes custody of the child (Iím not sure thatís how it works, but okay), while the shark itself is content to lurk for five years, conveniently rearing its head as soon as Clint is paroled. With his previous crime associates breathing down his neck and expecting compensation, he sets out to destroy the shark alongside with the usual assortment of yokels and townsfolk, including the woman who raised his child.
Of course, Deputy Hernandez is the only one in town whoís convinced theyíre even dealing with a shark. Both the mayor and her boss donít believe it, even though an oceanographic scholar (Michael Aaron Milligan) insists on it, andÖyeah, what the hell, Shark Lake, just go ahead and rip off Jaws while youíve got everything else going on. Kindly ignore that just about every bad shark movie tries to do this for some odd reason, as if itís a wise move to remind your audience that they should most definitely be watching Jaws instead. You probably wouldnít do a stick figure drawing of the Mona Lisa and expect people to be impressed, you know? At any rate, Shark Lake at least has the decency to speed through the Jaws beats and add a wrinkle involving a bear that everyone assumes is the culprit (one of the first shark attacks occurs in shallow water, so I guess itís believable). The usual mid-movie ďwe slayed the beast!Ē fake-out dutifully follows, albeit with a pretty funny gag that sees a parasailer have her leg gnawed off.
That probably qualifies as the filmís only truly memorable moment, and even itís not great for the same reason most of these shark movies canít be great: the cheap effects are rancid, effectively robbing these films of even their schlock potential. With even a modicum of skill or effort, movies like Shark Lake could at least manage to deliver gory, trashy pleasures, yet they donít even bother to do that. When youíre too cheap to deliver cheap thrills, you have a problem. Not that Shark Lake should even be bothering with that anyway, considering it has pretenses of being a grounded, dramatic effort involving a fucking custody battle. As always, these films want to be Jaws without bothering to figure out what made Spielbergís film work from either a dramatic standpoint or an effects standpoint. For once, Iíd like one of these things to acknowledge its limitations and work around them, much like Spielberg himself did.
But obviously, Spielberg isnít walking through that door, especially when it comes to Shark Lake. Rather than make a reasonable effort with meager resources, director Jerry Dugan plunged headlong into the badness, staging awful, unconvincing shark attacks with obviously digital creatures and even more unsightly pixelated gore. At no point can you even believe these sharks exist in the frame with their victims, but that doesnít stop Dugan from indulging in wildly awful sequences he has no business even bothering with. You could make the argument that he at least knows exactly what kind of movie heís making and is playing to expectations, but Iím not even quite sure of that considering the tonal disparity at work here. One minute, heís subjecting you to subdued, disinterested actors walking through the dramatic beats involving the Clintís daughter; the next, youíre watching a reality-TV shark-hunting Lothario hit on skimpily-dressed girls (this guy isnít the Quint surrogate so much as heís an even lamer take-off of Phillip FitzRoyce from Jaws 3, as if he you needed further confirmation that Shark Lake is ill-advised).
Of course, Iíd be willing to forgive all of that if Lundgren could salvage it at all. Alas, it proves to be too difficult even for him. I know what youíre thinking: ďyou expect this lug to elevate a shitty killer shark movie?Ē In fact, Lundgren is perfectly adept for this sort of thing and has become a pretty solid performer in recent years (heís by far the best recurring cast member in The Expendables), capable of creating a magnetic presence full of pathos and wit. Hardly any of that is on display here, if only because heís barely even in the thing. Despite having what should be a meaty role as a father trying to reunite with his daughter, he spends most of the movie riding around on a boat or beating the hell out of his old crime buddies when they threaten him at his house (it would seem that Dugan and his screenwriters must also think this is all heís good foróobligatory action junk).
Youíd think theyíd at least have the decency to make him something like the actual Quint stand-in, but not so much: heís around for the climax but does very little, though I admittedly like that he kind of cedes the floor to Hernandez. These two characters have an obvious conflict thatís just ready to explode, but, in one of the filmís rare delicate moments, itís subverted in favor of something a little more natural and subdued. Lundgren gets to show off those dramatic chops as he insists upon his gratitude for the woman who took his daughter in and raised her while he was in jail. Of course, itís almost immediately followed up by a laughably awful climax involving CGI fire and Lundgren wrestling with those terrible looking sharks. Trust me when I say itís not even worth a chuckle, no matter how absurd that previous sentence sounds.
As such, whatever little bit of goodwill Shark Lake engenders is swiftly undone by its disjointed tone, leaden performances, largely unlikeable characters, and a dearth of inspiration. At times, it feels like the pitch here was ďletís do SyFy bullshit but take it seriously.Ē The only problem with that approach is that it still involves all the other SyFy bullshit. Say what you want about something like Sharknado (and I canít believe Iím about to say this), but that title has more thought and inspiration behind it than the entirety of Shark Lake, a movie whose title also sounds like joke but somehow one thatís even worse than all the ones that have come before. ďWhat if a shark were in a lake?Ē just doesnít have any kind of punch to it when youíve seen sharks literally grafted onto natural disasters, you know? Not that either is funny, for the record.
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