Category Archives: Directed by Renny Harlin

Deep Blue Sea (1999, Renny Harlin)

Deep Blue Sea is ten years too late. I knew the movie was about genetically modified sharks gone wild but the people are also stranded at the bottom of the ocean in a habitat thing. Deep Blue Sea isn’t just an amped-up Jaws movie with terrible CGI and a lousy cast, it’s a postscript in the great Leviathan, The Abyss, DeepStar Six sea monster cohort—wait, I just read there are actually even more 1989 sea monster movies. Three more. Wow.

I wonder if any of them are better than Deep Blue Sea, which lacks distinction and is rather predictably bad. The lousy shark attacks necking Abercrombie models opener sets the stage. It even establishes there are going to be composition issues throughout, as director Harlin and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon went Super 35 (which just means the shots are cropped from 4:3 to 2.35:1); I’m not sure if every single close-up in the movie is a bad shot but at least–on the conservative side… ninety-two percent of them are bad shots. Harlin doesn’t do a lot of close-ups, just like when it seems like Jaws would use a close-up. Deep Blue Sea is very much a poorly written, low budgeted Jaws and Jurassic Park mash-up not directed by Steven Spielberg but a very Spielberg-influenced Harlin. To give Harlin some benefit of the doubt. Because besides the sound design, which is awesome and significantly better than the lousy CGI explosions it accompanies, and maybe how impressively Trevor Rabin mimics John Williams and Danny Elfman, there’s nothing good about Deep Blue Sea. There are more worse things and less worse things. There are also sad things. Lots and lots of sad, bad things. And like one good practical shark model. Deep Blue Sea is a failing postscript to that 1989 sea monster club too; it doesn’t even try with its sharks. It’s always CGI. Deep Blue Sea is from that era of CGI where everyone thought it’d be cool to have a crappy CGI helicopter flying around. Usually the same CGI helicopter model too.

All the CGI-assisted shark attacks and structural disasters aside, the movie’s a fail simply because it’s not camp. First act lead, Saffron Burrows approaches the part like an audition for a daytime soap bitchy British lady part, which has some camp potential but no one goes for it. Burrows can’t because she’s godawful, but Harlin either doesn’t see it or wants to avoid it. The script avoids camp too, it wouldn’t work well with the Crichton-sized self-delusion. Burrows eventually just becomes a prop—there’s a really creepy Ripley underwear homage, which kind of sums up the film perfectly—as she’s revealed to have violated the “Harvard Compact,” which doesn’t even sound real in the movie, to genetically modify the sharks, something none of her colleagues know about but is utterly obvious because anytime Burrows talks about her father dying from Alzheimer’s and shark brains being the only solution, she’s really intense and really, really bad. Harlin tends to go to close-up, which is too bad because it’s kind of funny seeing the actors standing around perplexed as they shift from side to side during someone else’s exposition dump. Samuel L. Jackson does it best. Him or Stellan Skarsgård. Jackson’s not good because he’s like two caricatures put together; one’s the intrusive rich investor guy, the other’s the mountaineer who killed people who didn’t follow his orders. But he’s the most likable character in the movie because he’s not giving a peculiarly terrible performance. Jackson’s just not good because the part’s terrible, ditto Skarsgård. Burrows, Thomas Jane, Michael Rapaport, Jacqueline McKenzie, on the other hand… they’re not good because of their parts, sure, but they’re also each bad in some specific ways, as I mentioned above and will not repeat with Burrows.

Jane.

Thomas Jane is the Harrison Ford-type shark wrangler. He’s got a literal swimming with the sharks scene; you can tell some of the casting is because other actors said no to being in the water so much. Jane’s in the water a lot; underwater a lot. His performance is unformed clay. With very blond hair. He’s bad but you don’t get exasperated with him like some of the other cast. Well, actually everyone else except Jackson, Skarsgård, and Aida Turturro (as the sassy radio operator topside). Michael Rapaport gets tiring fast not because he’s so bad but because he’s trying so hard; he’s really enthusiastic about playing a smart engineer guy here. It’s awkward to watch. Harlin’s really bad at directing the actors. He wants to focus on the explosions—not even the sharks—and the script wants to focus on the characters in dramatic situations, which Harlin’s got no interest in or apparent ability to direct.

And then Jacqueline McKenzie; the whole reason I’ve wanted to see the movie. She’s got such a bland Americanized accent (she’s Australian) it has lost all affect.

Oh, and LL Cool J. He’s not bad. He’s not good, it’s not a good showcase of his acting, even though he’s got all these actorly moments in his part, an ex-preacher turned undersea chef. His solo adventure through the crisis pads the movie, which doesn’t have anywhere near enough story for a hundred and five minutes.

But then the end credits are like eight blissful minutes you get back.

Returned to life.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Renny Harlin; written by Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers, and Wayne Powers; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Derek Brechin, Dallas Puett, and Frank J. Urioste; music by Trevor Rabin; production designers, Joseph Bennett and William Sandell; costume designer, Mark Bridges; produced by Akiva Goldsman, Tony Ludwig, Don MacBain, and Alan Riche; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Thomas Jane (Carter Blake), Saffron Burrows (Dr. Susan McAlester), Samuel L. Jackson (Russell Franklin), Jacqueline McKenzie (Janice Higgins), Michael Rapaport (Tom Scoggins), Stellan Skarsgård (Jim Whitlock), LL Cool J (Preacher), Aida Turturro (Brenda Kerns), and Ronny Cox (The Old Man).


A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988, Renny Harlin)

The Dream Master has a really lame final scene, which is too bad since the second half of the film actually gets rather good. The script–from Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat–is impressive for a couple reasons. First, it gives Lisa Wilcox a great hero arc across the traditional gender lines–she’s the nerd crushing on Danny Hassel’s hunk, but she ends up saving him. Sure, all of their mutual friends and her brother had to die for her to magically inherit their individuality and let it fuel her own, but she does use the power for good.

Wilcox is enthusiastic and sincere, which makes up for her performance being a tad light.

The story arc doesn’t really need Robert Englund or Freddy Krueger, but he’s a decent enough addition as far as the villain of that piece. It’s just not the only thing going on in Dream Master, which opens with continuation of the previous film. The film starts with the previous entry’s three survivors–Tuesday Knight, Rodney Eastman and Ken Sagoes–making a new life for themselves (in high school). Knight (taking over for Patricia Arquette) is dating Andras Jones, who’s Wilcox’s sister. Brooke Theiss and Toy Newkirk are also part of the group. And even though this group is somewhat aware of Knight and company’s previous troubles, they don’t experience it. Not until about halfway into the picture, because Dream Master takes the very awkward–but thoughtful–approach of handing the film off between sets of characters.

Knight’s okay, so are Hassel and Jones. Everyone’s likable enough, which seems to be intentional (Theiss, the jock, and Newkirk, the nerd, tease each other but are still besties).

Bad music from Craig Safan. Decent photography from Steven Fierberg. He shoots it a little dark, but once an effects sequence gets going, he’s careful to make sure to show enough. The effects sequences are fantastic, whether they’re large scale set pieces or just the gross-out stuff.

As for Harlin’s direction–it’s a mixed bag. Some of it’s really good. The dream sequences he can play like action scenes, those scenes do well. The ones he does for horror? Not so much. He tends more towards the sci-fi handling, wanting to make sure the audience understands exactly what’s going on. It works out well enough–there’s not much horror in the screenplay, which instead relies on neat narrative tricks and devices.

Dream Master takes a while to get going, but once it does, it works out quite well. Until that moronic last scene, where it cheats the audience out of seeing Wilcox as a “regular” hero, not just a dream one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Renny Harlin; screenplay by Brian Helgeland, Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat based on a story by William Kotzwinkle and Helgeland and characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Steven Fierberg; edited by Michael N. Knue, Jack Tucker and Chuck Weiss; music by Craig Safan; production designers, C.J. Strawn and Mick Strawn; produced by Robert Shaye and Rachel Talalay; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Lisa Wilcox (Alice), Tuesday Knight (Kristen), Andras Jones (Rick), Danny Hassel (Dan), Brooke Theiss (Debbie), Rodney Eastman (Joey), Ken Sagoes (Kincaid), Toy Newkirk (Sheila), Brooke Bundy (Mrs. Parker), Nicholas Mele (Mr. Johnson) and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger).


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Die Hard 2 (1990, Renny Harlin)

Director Renny Harlin often takes an interesting approach to conversations in Die Hard 2. He’ll have a character look off screen and interact with what they see, without ever establishing what they’re seeing. Oftentimes it happens with someone interacting with star Bruce Willis–Harlin only gives Willis this treatment once; it both focuses attention on Willis, but also opens Die Hard 2 up a little. Harlin acknowledges the greater world the audience isn’t seeing. It’s really a neat technical move; Stuart Baird’s sublime editing makes it even better.

Willis’s appealing performance and some nice dialogue exchanges manage to divert attention from Die Hard 2‘s bigger problems. First, William Sadler’s not much of a villain. Sadler’s not bad, but the role’s poorly written. Ditto for returning cast members Bonnie Bedelia and William Atherton. Screenwriters Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson treat the picture as sixty percent sequel, forty percent reunion. Reginald VelJohnson shows up for a scene just to remind the audience how much they enjoyed the first film and to encourage them to give this one a pass on its lesser moments.

There’s a surprisingly lack of action for long stretches. For the first half, all the action’s fantastic. In the second, it’s passable, nothing more. Oliver Wood’s photography’s a lot more interesting in confined places. The outdoor, nighttime action sequences of the last third are a bore.

While it’s uneven (the first half’s so much better), Die Hard 2‘s still a fun time and technical marvel.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Renny Harlin; screenplay by Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson, based on a novel by Walter Wager; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, John Vallone; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver and Charles Gordon; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Bruce Willis (Lt. John McClane), Bonnie Bedelia (Holly McClane), William Atherton (Richard Thornburg), William Sadler (Col. Stuart), Dennis Franz (Capt. Carmine Lorenzo), Sheila McCarthy (Samantha ‘Sam’ Coleman), Art Evans (Leslie Barnes), Fred Dalton Thompson (Trudeau), John Amos (Maj. Grant), Franco Nero (Gen. Ramon Esperanza), Tom Bower (Marvin) and Reginald VelJohnson (Sgt. Al Powell).


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Cliffhanger (1993, Renny Harlin)

Oh, Trevor Jones did the music. I was going to say it sounded like some really good Hans Zimmer (with some plagiarism of Alan Silvestri’s Predator score), but Jones does good work so I guess it’s not a surprise.

Cliffhanger is such a technical marvel it’s hard to get upset about the problems (writing and acting). Harlin’s got a lot of composite shots here and Alex Thomson shooting or not, the technology simply isn’t there for them to look right. But the concepts are all great. Outside the composites, everything is perfect. There’s some astounding stunt work in the film.

Frank J. Urioste’s editing is great, as is John Vallone’s production design.

So what’s wrong with it?

It’s stupid. It’s really, really stupid and it has constantly laughable dialogue.

The best actors in the movie are barely in it (Paul Winfield and Zach Grenier) and even Stallone–who can manage this kind of tripe–gets overshadowed by the villains. John Lithgow plays the lead villain, with a terrible British accent, and basically does an Anthony Hopkins impersonation. However, given Cliffhanger‘s release date, it’s like Hopkins saw the film and just started mimicking Lithgow’s turn in this one.

Janine Turner and Vyto Ruginis have such bad dialogue it’s impossible to gauge their performances. Villains Rex Linn, Leon and Craig Fairbrass are all atrocious. I suppose Caroline Goodall almost gives an okay bad performance.

It’s a shame Cliffhanger has to be so bad, just for all the technical pluses… but it’s inane.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Renny Harlin; screenplay by Michael France and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by France and a premise by John Long; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Frank J. Urioste; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, John Vallone; produced by Harlin and Alan Marshall; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Gabe Walker), John Lithgow (Eric Qualen), Michael Rooker (Hal Tucker), Janine Turner (Jessie Deighan), Rex Linn (Richard Travers), Caroline Goodall (Kristel), Leon (Kynette), Craig Fairbrass (Delmar), Gregory Scott Cummins (Ryan), Denis Forest (Heldon), Michelle Joyner (Sarah), Max Perlich (Evan), Paul Winfield (Walter Wright), Ralph Waite (Frank), Trey Brownell (Brett), Zach Grenier (Davis) and Vyto Ruginis (Matheson).


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