APRIL 13, 2016
A few years ago, Dolph Lundgren said he was retiring from acting (no jokes), and like everyone who isn't Sean Connery or Gene Hackman, he didn't really mean it - he was back making movies within a few months if memory serves. But to his credit, he has taken on more diverse projects over the past couple years; he still does the usual "CIA operative finds himself a target" kinda DTV nonsense like all of his peers, but in between those ones he'll pop up in something like Shark Lake, which is a Lake Placid-y (but humorless) approach to a shark movie, setting a couple of them free in a lake where they don't belong. We have the local officer, a shark hunter, and a scientist to give it that proper Jaws ripoff flair (though the cop is a woman!) - but Dolph isn't playing the hunter or the scientist (which would be amazing in the latter case), he's playing... a dad trying to reconnect with his daughter?
In the movie's far too rushed prologue, some cops investigate Dolph's house, which is filled with exotic animals and his 3 year old daughter, alone in bed as Dolph races away in his truck, presumably to avoid getting arrested for animal smuggling. He gets caught anyway and goes to jail, and now five years later he's out - and the daughter is now with Meredith, the officer who found her. Since animal smuggling isn't really the worst thing a man can go to jail for, we're not too worried that Dolph's gonna be the bad guy or anything, but we DO learn that it's his fault that the sharks are in the lake, because he set one free instead of forking it over to the local tycoon/mob/whatever "heavy" that ordered it. This subplot is nowhere near as ridiculous/fun as it sounds, I assure you, and seemingly only exists to give Dolph an excuse to fight some dudes every now and then since he can't really kick the sharks all that often.
Nor does it take up much of the movie. Dolph gets top billing, of course, but there are long stretches without his character (sometimes they just cut to him driving his boat or something just to remind us that he's there), and we spend most of our time with the adoptive mother/only cop who seems interested in killing the shark. She's the first to suspect shark, she's the only one that goes out to find it, etc. There's a funny subplot early on where they think a bear attacked someone (it was real close to the shore), so they kill a bear and are having this press conference about their victory when someone in the background gets their leg bitten off by the shark (good call to have the press conference with the lake behind them!), but the movie's title kind of prevents this from ever being an acceptable ruse. Still, it beats the usual "We got *a* shark, not *the* shark" stuff, giving the movie slightly more personality than the usual Jaws clone - and there's no close the beaches equivalent subplot, either.
But there IS a Matt Hooper! I find Hooper tends to be the least ripped-off character of the three, but this movie almost singlehandedly balances the boards on that one, as the only real difference is a. he flirts with "Brody" and b. dies, though even that can be construed as a book reference. He's even got the glasses and is supposed to leave town to study something else! The actual Matt Hooper showing up in Piranha 3Dfelt less inspired by Spielberg's version of the character than this guy. As for the "Quint" guy, it's a typically cheesy/fake Steve Irwin wannabe guy who wants to catch the shark for his laughably low-rent (but supposedly successful) reality show, which apparently has a crew of one. He gets offed earlier than expected, which was a minor surprise but also kind of a foregone conclusion when you realize that the movie didn't hire Dolph Lundgren to mope about his daughter in non-shark scenes - eventually he's gotta take over as the movie's tough guy.
When it finally gets to this stuff, it's fine. I like that Dolph has no ill-will toward Meredith, saving her life a couple times and quickly reuniting her with the little girl (he even refers to her as "your daughter", which is nice), and their faceoff with the shark is set in the dead of night so it's dark enough not to see how bad the CGI is, but getting there takes way too long. I just mentioned the CGI, and it's not limited to the attacks, which can be expected since no one can bother doing prosthetics anymore. No, we get hilariously bad underwater footage with the shark hunter and his cameraman clearly superimposed into it, off-scale and not even moving naturally across the footage - it reminded me of that insanely terrible shot from Jaws 3D where the shark crashes into the control room. That there isn't even any sharks in some of these shots just makes it look all the worse, and there are still frame establishing shots and other cheapo blemishes that made me wonder if it was really worth blowing the entire budget on Dolph. Clearly they coulda gotten a lesser name (Jeff Speakman?) to handle this stuff and put that dough toward making the other parts of the movie at least halfway respectable, no?
For the most part, the only really interesting thing about the movie to me was how rather unlikable the heroine was. She's mean to the Hooper guy, and she's totally disrespectful to her boss - he even comments that she's the only one who calls him by his first name instead of "Sheriff" (or chief, or whatever he was). I think she even dismisses her own mother at one point, and doesn't seem to care much that their dog got chomped (insanely bad scene by the way, featuring kids who are delighted by setting off dud fireworks). And she won't let the kid see her dad, which seems rather extreme considering he wasn't a violent murderer or whatever - he just wanted to help some local rich folks own snakes or alligators (he also got paroled, it's not like he escaped or anything). I mean I'm all for more female heroines, but ultimately I don't care what sex/color/race/etc they are, I want to actually LIKE them in these things, at least more than I do the damn sharks. I was far more endeared by the random old people who get sharked early on (the one the other cops think is the work of a bear). The husband is panning for gold in the lake while his wife goes to get her iPad so she can take pictures for her friend in some sort of weird passive aggressive way (they go on and on about how jealous the lady will be because her lake isn't as nice or something?), and he's sadly killed off before we can enjoy any more of their batty old people yammering. That other lady is never going to know how clear Lake Tahoe is, and that's the real tragedy of the film.
Somehow, this ISN'T a Syfy original; I couldn't find exactly how it was first released but the IMDB lists a US release date of October 2nd of 2015, which was a Friday. That usually means theatrical (new DVDs come out on Tuesdays), but it also says "internet" next to it, so maybe it was straight to VOD? At any rate, it's an OK enough time-killer for the non-discerning, though the promise of "Dolph Lundgren vs sharks!" is only technically (and very briefly) realized, with too many 3rd rate FX and lazy Jaws swipes to deal with along the way. With more odd touches like that old couple this could be elevated into must-see weirdo entertainment, but for the most part it's as bland as it is derivative, and even Dolph in a horror movie isn't that novel anymore - he also joined Scott Adkins against a monster in Legendary, and fought zombies in something called Battle of the Damned (he's also got Don't Kill It on the way, which has the most promise of them all as it's been described as Indiana Jones meets Evil Dead). We can all do better, folks.
What say you?