AUGUST 19, 2010
As I mentioned in one of the other reviews, Jaws: The Revenge was the first Jaws film that I saw, when I was about 8 or 9. I liked it then, but hadn’t watched it in its entirety since. Only a few highlights lived on in my memory (banana boat scene, for example), other chunks of the movie were completely forgotten – the only thing I remembered about Michael Caine, for example, was that he flew a plane and that there was a pretty famous goof where he gets out of the water with dry clothes.
Well now I know why I couldn’t remember anything – the movie’s completely dull. I don’t know how Universal managed to greenlight a sequel that had even fewer kills than the original, but it’s still not as puzzling as how they managed to come up with one of the all time dumbest plots in movie history in the first place, let alone allow it to be associated with one of its signature franchises (and the baby of the studio’s golden boy – if I were Spielberg I would have been insulted enough to take my blockbusters elsewhere).
If you haven’t yet seen the film, or somehow escaped its (somewhat incorrect – I still think its better than 3, though not by much) placement on “worst sequels (or movies period) of all time” list descriptions, the movie is actually about a (the?) shark specifically seeking out members of the Brody family for the titular revenge. I don’t know what’s sillier – that they give the shark that much credit (then again, he IS an advanced specimen – he can roar, sink straight down, and swim faster than jets can fly), or that the Brody family would stick around water anyway, hence the decision to move from Amity to the Bahamas. Maybe try Iowa? Hell, even New Hampshire would suffice – you got Water Country, but it’s not connected to the ocean.
Anyway, this causes one of the main problems with the movie – nothing happens. The shark takes out Sean in the first scene (Chief Brody has died prior to the film’s beginning – they say it’s a heart attack but Ellen says it was his fear of the shark – the shark he killed twice? Shouldn’t he feel kind of superior to it by now?), and the rest of the Brody clan is made up of Ellen (top billed star/wife of the studio head that demanded this stupid movie in the first place), Michael (the dashing Lance Guest, who we know is indestructible thanks to Halloween II’s original ending), and a little girl. Yeah, they’re in real danger. This allows for only 2 other kills in the movie, which actually translates to 1 kill in the version I saw, where Mario Van Peebles survives.
Maybe Lance Guest just brings this shit along with him wherever he goes? Because, like Halloween II, there are two endings to the film, and you never really know which one you’re going to get. In one, Ellen rams the shark with the bow (stern? I’m not a nautical man) and impales it, its bloody corpse sinking to the bottom of the ocean. In the other, she looks at it for a while, and then I THINK makes her ramming gesture, but this time the shark explodes into a million pieces, somehow. And then, more variations – sometimes Peebles floats back to the surface, fairly able-bodied despite being bitten nearly in half by a giant shark and dragged below the water for a good 5 minutes at this point (two movies in a row with ridiculous breath-holding moments!). Other times he remains dead, giving the movie a total body count of 3 (still down 1 from Jaws).
Either version has Ellen suddenly having some of her flashbacks to things she wasn’t present for, in this case Martin shooting the thing in the first movie. Earlier, at Sean’s funeral, she has a flashback to the classic “copying his dad” scene from the original, which again she wasn’t in the room to see. I guess Martin told her about it? “So then I frowned, and then he frowned, and then I folded my hands, and then he folded his fans, and then I...” I mean, I see this sort of thing in sequels all the time, so it’s not specific to this movie, but it’s more problematic when you consider the giant difference in quality.
Most know that the film ignores Jaws 3 (and rightfully so), but it also ignores the first movie in a way – what the hell is Mrs. Kintner doing at the post-funeral gathering at the Brody house? She hates these people! And like the Brody’s themselves, why hasn’t she moved away? I mean, if your kid dies in a car accident in your neighborhood, that’s one thing, but why would you keep living in the town where their reliance on the beaches being open is what got your kid killed? Also, the town seems pretty populated even at Christmastime, which sort of negates the whole “this town dies without summer” thing. It seems like any town to me – they really should have played up the isolation of the winter season. Not only would it help reinforce this aspect of the story, it would also give Ellen a better reason to leave – “You shouldn’t be in town all by yourself” type of thing.
Luckily the few action scenes deliver. The banana boat sequence goes by a bit too quickly, but it still works, and has forever made me afraid to ride a banana boat (as I’ve said before, I’m kind of afraid of fish and other marine life, so this sort of shit doesn’t help). And there’s a cool, if incredibly logic-free, scene where Michael tries to escape the shark by swimming into a shipwreck, only for his plan to fail because he didn’t take into account the shark’s ability to change its size whenever the story demanded it.
In fact, even with the dumb plotting, the movie still could have worked if Joseph Sargent had put any effort into it whatsoever. This guy directed the original Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3, so respect for that, but the majority of his output is TV movies, and it shows in every single frame. Everything looks rushed and flat throughout, the camera only moves if it has to keep up with a moving character, and the editing is insanely clunky (how many times do they need to cut back to the carolers when Sean is getting killed? We get it! The noise is drowning out his screams!). Christ, even the font on the opening titles is ugly and cheap looking. The original film is one of the greatest big screen thrills of all time – I’ve seen it a dozen times and it still gets me pumped when I get to see it theatrically, because it just such an epic scale in that 3rd act. But here? Even on a computer monitor, I felt that the movie felt too small – I can’t imagine how cheap it must have felt on a big screen.
Since someone will whine if I don’t mention it, yes, Michael Caine is in the movie. Yes, he couldn’t accept his Oscar because he was filming this thing at the time. He lends the film a bit of class, obviously, and even makes the character scenes sort of enjoyable, because he’s so much better than the material yet he’s still giving a good performance. Based on the stuff from the novelization, he was originally a much more rounded character (he flew laundered money around, got mixed up with voodoo chiefs, etc), but all this stuff was cut in order to keep the focus on the Brody family. And Guest I think should have had a bigger career – he’s a charming fella, and retains his dignity even though the film’s script has him say things like “I’ve always wanted to make love to an angry welder.”
Luckily, the film’s brief running time (under 90 minutes) ensures we get some sort of action scene every 15 minutes or so, which is reasonable. One is just a nightmare scene, but it’s better than nothing, and the shark doesn’t look TOO bad in most of the scenes (the sunken boat one has some problems, but the main attacks are fine). And that alone makes it better than 3, despite all of its other problems. Still, outside of Halloween I don’t think any series has had such a giant drop in quality from its original to its finale (in Halloween’s case I’m referring to Resurrection, not Zombie’s movies). Hell, even Psycho IV (an ACTUAL TV movie) has more of the original’s spirit, and was made with the best intentions. This? It’s maybe the best movie a studio head ever made as a present to his wife, but that’s about it.
What say you?