Written by: Erik Patterson (teleplay), Hans Rodionoff (story, teleplay), Jessica Scott (teleplay), Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers, & Wayne Powers (characters)
Directed by: Darin Scott
Starring: Danielle Savre, Rob Mayes, and Michael Beach
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Stronger. Deadlier. Wiser.
Are we in the midst of a long-overdue shark movie renaissance? Some signs—like the release of The Shallows and 47 Meters Down in consecutive years—point to “yes.” Both the impending release of MEG and SyFy’s decision to stop running its Sharknado joke into the ground are also encouraging for those of us who have endured the drudgeries of this genre for the past decade. And then there’s WB’s decision to dust off Deep Blue Sea for a sequel nearly twenty years after the fact, a weird—and, if I’m being honest, pretty unasked for—turn of events that isn’t quite as promising. While this release attempts to harken back to those halcyon days when the likes of Renny Harlin directed gonzo killer shark movies, it’s a reminder of Hollywood’s utter lack of shame in exploiting a well-known title to ride the wave of a popular trend. To watch Deep Blue Sea 2 is to experience déjà vu: not only have you seen this movie before, but you’ve also seen this sort of cheap cash-in and all the diminishing returns it entails. You’re left with the thudding realization that, no, we are in fact not in the midst of a shark movie revolution, not as long as studios and production companies are willing to churn out lazy junk like this.
Despite the numerical title, this isn’t a sequel so much as it’s a shoestring redux that’s content with replicating the original film nearly beat for beat. Once again, an egomaniacal billionaire (Michael Beach) has summoned an array of biologists to a research facility at sea, where he’s engaged in sketchy experiments with bull sharks. Terrified that humanity will inevitably succumb to sentient artificial intelligence, he’s desperately searching for a way to augment mankind’s brain potential to thwart the eventual Skynet-style revolution. What he doesn’t account for—presumably because he never watched the original Deep Blue Sea—is a side effect that turns these sharks into hyper-intelligent killing machines capable of plotting against their human captors. Just as they did the first time around, these sharks sabotage the underwater facility, sending this ragtag group on a frenzied race back topside, a destination that becomes seared into your brain because the characters literally say the word “topside” over a dozen times. If only screenwriting software came with the ability to scan a document for overused words!
Speaking of the screenplay, the original Deep Blue Sea scribes are credited here for their characters from the original, a notion you’ll find to be skeptical considering, you know, none of them actually appear. Well, not officially anyway, and it soon becomes clear that these “new” characters are actually just retreads of what came before, only instead of being played by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows, and Thomas Jane, they’re brought to life by a bland, anonymous cast that leaves all the impression of a passable high school musical. Just about the only inspired choice here is the decision not to include an analogue for L.L. Cool J’s comic relief chef (and his pet parrot)—at least someone had the good sense to not even try to fill such enormous shoes (or rap about their hat resembling a shark's fin).
In all seriousness, that decision—and, quite frankly, most of the decisions here—are indicative of this movie’s ethos: “it’s like Deep Blue Sea, only way cheaper and with much less personality.” Say what you want about Harlin’s original, but that fucker chugs ahead like a freight train, largely thanks to those outlandish personalities and its director’s knack for rousing action sequences. You’ll find neither in this follow-up, which is admittedly working on a noticeably smaller budget that director Darin Scott (of Tales from the Hood fame) is helpless to outpace: even a few laughably insane moments (like a shot of a shark eavesdropping on a conversation) can’t quite wipe away the DTV stink that wafts through every frame in the form of uninspired, flat photography, TV movie production values (the script is actually credited as a teleplay, which is telling), and dodgy effects—including, yes, the sharks that somehow look worse than the ones from 1999. Actual legislation should exist that forbids this, in my opinion.
As is always the case with such Z-grade fare, you watch Deep Blue Sea 2 in the hopes of turning up some outrageous moments that can leave an impression despite everything else. To its credit, it does scatter a decent handful throughout, even if some of them are telegraphed by your knowledge of similar beats in the original (suffice it to say, Samuel L. Jackson’s infamous demise is replicated because of course it is). Still, you can’t dismiss any movie with sentient sharks out of hand, and the movie gets some mileage (and manages some decent chuckles) from the sensation that the main shark is orchestrating this chaos after it overhears people plotting its demise. Even the great white from Jaws: The Revenge doesn’t have anything on that shit.
The Revenge also doesn’t boast a positively unhinged performance like the one Beach gives here. As Carl Durant, he doesn’t even feign the appearance of a well-meaning but misguided philanthropist, opting instead to embrace the character’s potential to be a completely paranoid asshole. Thanks to a decision to experiment on himself, he’s losing his mind to his inane conspiracy theory, so it’s like watching an Infowars devotee degenerate in real time. Thankfully, the script doesn’t skimp on providing him with the outrageous send-off you spend 90 minutes craving. Both Beach and Scott really go for it here, staging a hilariously overwrought, climactic moment that inspires a genuine guffaw.
I wish I could say the rest of the movie was as satisfying. None of the other characters are nearly as memorable, mostly because the lackluster cast makes this feel like a community theater rendition of Deep Blue Sea. Worse—or perhaps not, I guess—these actors aren’t given much to do beyond skulk around moodily-lit corridors, attempting to evade the predators that have been let loose. On this front, Deep Blue Sea 2 actually takes an inspired turn when the mother shark becomes pregnant and gives birth to a pack of piranha-like offspring, a clever wrinkle that allows the filmmakers to mitigate their miniscule budget. Rather than dwelling on the utterly unconvincing full-sized sharks, the film allows these cartoonish (yet somehow still believable) pint-sized bastards to engage in a feeding frenzy. Unfortunately, even this payoff is botched, as most of the gory punchlines are awfully realized with cheap effects. With the exception of an excruciating, awesomely practical bisection, the gore gags look too ridiculous to take seriously or delight in, leaving you to wonder just what you’re supposed to do with this dull, wanton carnage.
Deep Blue Sea 2 often leaves you wondering what the point is: why, after nearly 20 years, did Warner Brothers drudge this property into the limelight, only to waste their shot on such a lackluster effort? You could perhaps understand doing so even a few years ago, when irony-soaked nonsense was all the rage; better still, you could have even had hope about a decade ago, back when the studio first announced the sequel for its now defunct Warner Premiere label. Given Premiere’s output, which included the likes of the Lost Boys sequels, Trick R’ Treat, and The Hills Run Red, it’s not hard to imagine a much more worthwhile Deep Blue Sea sequel.
Where the Warner Premiere label often helped to diminish the DTV stigma, this effort is a stark reminder of why we’ve been conditioned to be so skeptical of such releases. Deep Blue Sea 2 is perhaps a step above SyFy’s output, and even that channel apparently realizes it’s time to put this whole thing out to pasture. Watching this is only slightly more rewarding than subjecting yourself to Roboshark or Zombie Shark or what have you. WB’s impending release of MEG only makes this even more confounding: presumably, that will be the good take on this sort of thing, leaving Deep Blue Sea 2 to feel like an unnecessary relic of what I hope is becoming a bygone era.
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