Ever since Renny Harlin announced his intention to shoot a movie based around a shoal of man-munching super-IQ mutoid sharks, we've been laughing. And ever since we've seen Renny Harlin's movie based around a shoal of man-munching super-IQ mutoid sharks, we've been laughing. Question is, have we been laughing at it, or with it? Has to be said, a bit of both.
Harlin has made an astonishingly mediocre career out of taking high-concept action to its low-brow limit. But with the suprisingly efficient Deep Blue Sea, even his most irritating overindulgence (if it moves, blow it up; if it doesn't move, blow it up; if it's already blown up, blow it up again) has been dumped in favour of tightly- packed thrills. Considering this is the man who made the sea explode in Cutthroat Island, the single `copter-crash thwooming of Aquatica is a triumph of self-discipline over dynamite fetish.
But Deep Blue Sea is hardly a full-blown rebirth of self-restraint. The action movie clichés that Harlin curiously claims as his own are in hammy abundance, but at least he's acknowledged his limitations and maxed-out on his one true strength: the set-piece. Moving at teaser-trailer speed, the flick's maxim is to crush in as many Big Dollar Shots as possible.
Not that it's enough to detract from a cartilage-brained script that has characters spewing dumbcracks through a fence of exclamation marks. (Personal favourite line: "I didn't want this to happen, but with this research we could have practically wiped out a degenerative brain disease!") If this was any other director, you'd think the whole cheeseball was an exercise in covert urine extraction, but an irony-bypassed Harlin plays it straight. It's almost as if he's proud of Deep Blue's dumbness, well aware that the audience will split ribs at the direlogue.
It certainly goes some way to explaining why the film doesn't waste time developing the cast beyond potential fish-fodder. Joe 90 lookalike Samuel L Jackson gets to say: "What in the name of God's creation is that?!", Stellan Skarsgard replies with: "Not God's creation, mine!" while low-rent Ripley Saffron Burrows is so deliciously awful the only reason the sharks don't eat her in the first five minutes is that they probably mistook her for balsa wood. The two exceptions? Thomas Jane is reliably gruff and LL Cool J gets a huge thumbs-up for turning his walking wisecrack role into please-don't-get-him affability.
No, the real stars here are the sharks. While the CG Makos are utter clunk, the model work is a gobsmacking achievement, with their fluid thrash and gnash. Cribbing from action movies past and present, it's more like The Abyss meets Alien, shot with the velocity of Speed. Deliberately derivative though it is, Harlin's fish frenzy goes out of its way to deliver its lobotomised pleasures.