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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).


The Hard Way (1991, John Badham)

From the opening titles, it’s clear The Hard Way is going to have a lot of technical personality. The opening is set to the sounds of a street festival, the New York streets wet with rain and the neon lights vibrant.

Director Badham’s composition is excellent, Frank Morriss and Tony Lombardo’s editing is tight and the photography (either from Donald McAlpine or Robert Primes–it’s impossible to know who, Badham replaced Primes mid-shoot) is outstanding.

Only, it’s Taxi Driver. They’re ripping off Taxi Driver. It’s sort of appropriate, I guess, since the film goes on to rip off Dirty Harry for its villain.

But the film’s hook is Michael J. Fox, as an obnoxious movie star, tagging along with James Woods’s hard-boiled detective. Both Fox and Woods are perfect for the roles, able to transition when the film requires their characters to develop. Their chemistry is outstanding, which gets the film in trouble when it keeps them apart.

The filmmakers foolishly try to make the storyline plausible, inserting some pointless subplots. The most superfluous is the one with Fox bonding with Woods’s erstwhile girlfriend (an amiable, if underused, Annabella Sciorra). They pad a lot… and then feel the need to give the movie around four false endings.

But it’s pleasant and endearing throughout. The great supporting cast–Luis Guzmán and Delroy Lindo in particular–help. Stephen Lang chews the scenery as the villain; he’s never scary (or realistic) but always amusing.

And Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score is swell.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Lem Dobbs, based on a story by Dobbs and Michael Kozoll; directors of photography, Donald McAlpine and Robert Primes; edited by Tony Lombardo and Frank Morriss; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Philip Harrison; produced by Rob Cohen and William Sackheim; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Nick Lang), James Woods (Detective Lt. John Moss), Stephen Lang (The Party Crasher), Annabella Sciorra (Susan), Christina Ricci (Bonnie), John Capodice (Detective Grainy), Luis Guzmán (Detective Benny Pooley), LL Cool J (Detective Billy), Mary Mara (Detective China), Delroy Lindo (Captain Brix), Conrad Roberts (Witherspoon) and Penny Marshall (Angie).


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Halloween H20 (1998, Steve Miner)

Halloween H20 is a mishmash. It’s a sequel to a seventies slasher movie, it’s a post-modern slasher movie of the Scream variety, it’s a thoughtful sequel, it’s a somewhat successful rumination on redemption and the cost of such redemption.

Director Miner’s composition is, appropriately, more John Carpenter homage than mimicry. He and cinematographer Daryn Okada hold the picture together; while pieces occasionally spill out, they keep it pretty well solid throughout.

Without Jamie Lee Curtis, of course, H20 wouldn’t work. The plot could work without her, but not the scenes. Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg’s script has these great scenes–particularly Curtis’s relationship with son Josh Hartnett and beau Adam Arkin. Those are the “real world” things. The writers also produce a striking horror sequence involving a child in distress.

For the teenagers being in danger, the script doesn’t do as well. Some of it is just bad acting. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe is bad, Michelle Williams is mediocre–though Adam Hann-Byrd is good. O’Keefe butchers her witty dialogue.

H20 isn’t a scary movie in the traditional sense. It toys with the whole idea of inevitability as it relates to the genre, whether in the opening “scare” or the boogeyman’s arrival.

Curtis is utterly fantastic. Hartnett and Arkin are both good, though in some ways neither get enough story time. Janet Leigh has a nice little part and LL Cool J is amusing.

The Marco Beltrami (with some John Ottman) score is usually effective.

It’s an unexpectedly excellent film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Miner; screenplay by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg, based on a story by Zappia and characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter; director of photography, Daryn Okada; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami and John Ottman; production designer, John Willett; produced by Paul Freeman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Keri Tate), Josh Hartnett (John Tate), Adam Arkin (Will Brennan), Michelle Williams (Molly), Adam Hann-Byrd (Charlie), Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (Sarah), Janet Leigh (Norma Watson), LL Cool J (Ronny), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jimmy), Branden Williams (Tony) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers Whittington).


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Mindhunters (2004, Renny Harlin)

Want to see an amazing, can’t-believe-I-haven’t-heard-of-him performance by Eion Bailey? See Mindhunters. Want to see a goofy, affable Val Kilmer performance (maybe the first of its kind since Real Genius)? See Mindhunters. Want to see Christian Slater’s possibly best performance since Pump Up the Volume? See Mindhunters.

Want to see a terrible Jonny Lee Miller performance, where he tries a Southern accent? Mindhunters. Or LL Cool J totally failing in a major role (since he established himself as the likable but possibly tough supporting character)? Mindhunters again. Want to see something where you’re shocked to remember Renny Harlin directed Die Hard 2? Not kidding, Mindhunters.

I didn’t fit Clifton Collins Jr. giving a bad performance (the first I’ve seen from him) in that last paragraph. Oops.

Mindhunters appears to be Dimension’s attempt to turn Kathryn Morris into its Julia Roberts (and Patricia Valesquez, in maybe the film’s most absurdly awful performance, into its Angelina Jolie).

The film’s a considerable disaster, if only because the pacing is so idiotic–it didn’t get a theatrical release and it’s easy to see why. Unlike some of the other atrocious (but theatrically released) Dimension efforts, Mindhunters doesn’t even have a compelling cast. While there are good actors and good performances (the two are not corollary, however), Mindhunters would have been better served as a network miniseries. The script’s weak characterizations and Harlin’s laughable direction do the film no favors.

Though, I suppose, Charles Wood’s production design is good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Renny Harlin; screenplay by Wayne Kramer and Kevin Brodbin, based on a story by Kramer; director of photography, Robert Gantz; edited by Neil Farrell and Paul Martin Smith; music by Tuomas Kantelinen; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Cary Brokaw, Akiva Goldsman, Jeffrey Silver and Rebecca Spikings; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Eion Bailey (Bobby Whitman), Clifton Collins Jr. (Vince Sherman), Will Kemp (Rafe Perry), Val Kilmer (Jake Harris), Jonny Lee Miller (Lucas Harper), Kathryn Morris (Sara Moore), Christian Slater (J.D. Reston), LL Cool J (Gabe Jensen) and Patricia Velasquez (Nicole Willis).


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