Jaws: The Revenge--Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
Feb 6, 2001 (Updated Feb 6, 2001)
Review by Mike Bracken
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Good god, there are none.
Cons:I've only got 15 words, you'll have to read the review.
The Bottom Line: Wow, this an awful flick and a blight on the Jaws name--see this only if you're a diehard shark flick fan, and be prepared to be disappointed.
Jaws: The Revenge: Universal Pictures
Recommend this product?
Rating: USA: PG-13/ UK: 12/ Australia: M
Back in 1975, director Steven Spielberg unleashed his film Jaws on unsuspecting theatergoers all across America. The film went on to become a major success (breaking box office records and drawing major crowds) and still causes the average swimmer to view a dip in the ocean with a fair bit of trepidation.
Like all majorly successful films, Jaws inspired copycat films (many coming from Italy, with the most notable being Enzo Castellari’s Great White, a film that showed briefly here in the States, and was then ordered out of theaters after Universal sued the distributor over the resemblance to Jaws) and three sequels (and there’ve been faint rumblings concerning a fourth sequel over the course of the last few years). As is generally the case, none of these films manage to live up to the original.
Yet, while films like Great White, and sequels like Jaws 2 have their moments, nothing can quite prepare you for the experience of viewing Jaws: The Revenge--an American made sequel that makes even the cheesiest Italian rip-offs look like high art. If this film sucked any worse, it would simply implode.
I suppose we should start by regaling you with a brief synopsis about this film’s ‘plot’.
Jaws: The Revenge opens on Amity Island, the same island that was the setting of the first two films (this script makes the wise decision to eschew all references to Jaws 3-D, another inept sequel). Here we learn that Martin Brody (who was the hero of the first two films) has passed on after suffering a heart attack. His wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) and son Sean still live in Amity—with Sean following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a cop.
Unfortunately for Sean, he’s soon forced to go out on the water at night—an act that leads to his untimely demise at the hands of yet another large great white shark. Ellen’s devastated by the loss, convinced that the great whites in the area have formed some kind of shark vendetta against her and her family. So, rather than move to a landlocked state like Iowa, Ellen goes with her marine biologist son Michael (Lance Guest) and his family to spend some time in the Bahamas.
While there, she meets Hoagie (Michael Caine, slumming for a paycheck in order to pay for his new house—honestly) a handsome rogue who becomes interested in Ellen romantically. But, before you know it, our toothy friend shows up in the tropical paradise too, and he’s got designs on making a meal out of the remaining Brody family members. Mike and his partner Jake (Mario Van Peebles) soon run into the shark and attempt to tag it for research purposes—all of which leads to the inevitable climax where the shark goes on a rampage and eats a lot of people (or really just a few people in this case).
So, with so many examples of ineptitude to mention, where exactly does one begin?
Michael de Guzman’s script seems to be as good a starting point as any—after all, a director can never make a good film out of a bad script, or so the old saying goes, and Joe Sargant certainly had his hands tied here right from the start. I’m not sure who greenlighted this thing, but I’d bet they’re not working in the film industry anymore. Simply put, the script is awful—my seven-year-old daughter makes up better stories than this when she’s trying to avoid getting in trouble. Jaws: The Revenge smacks you in the face with its implausibility in the very early going and just never looks back. A killer shark with a vendetta against a family? A shark that somehow manages to follow a human woman from Amity, New York all the way to the Bahamas? A tagline that reads ‘this time, it’s personal’? C’mon…who buys this stuff? The Great White shark is a force of nature—do we really need to be attributing motivations to it like some two-bit slasher film villain?
Yet, if that were all that was wrong with the script, things might still turn out okay. At the very least, you’d have a shot at making a film that fell squarely into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. However, the plausibility issue is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the script is filled with absurd situations, trite and on the nose dialogue, flat and uninteresting characters (this film isn’t filled with characters, it’s filled with potential victims), plot holes big enough for a thirty-five foot great white shark to swim through with room to spare, and the most ludicrous endings I’ve ever seen (I say endings because there’s more than one version of this abomination out there). Throw logic out the window when you sit down for this one, because clearly, Michael de Guzman did just that.
While the script is bad, trust me when I tell you that things get worse—a lot worse. Director Joe Sargant is actually a fairly well regarded moviemaker. He’s won several Emmys, which is good, because I’m sure this movie has killed his chances of ever making a feature film again.
Sargant seems genuinely lost for much of the film. Sure, the establishing shots of the island are nice, and he does catch the beauty of the crystal clear water, but it takes more than that to make a film. The pacing of this movie is just awful—whether on land or at sea, it seems like we’re constantly waiting for something interesting to happen. Then, even when our antagonist appears, it’s still boring. Still, those scenes are at least mildly interesting (more on that in a bit). The scenes of Hoagie and Ellen’s blooming romance, a night at a bar, or Mike and his wife’s argument about the garbage are absolutely unendurable. It’s as if everyone’s just going through the motions.
Even more amusing is Sargant’s over-reliance on slow motion shots scattered throughout the film. A major attack near the climax is shot in slow motion (and it’s not that bad), and that scene is followed up by one of the most hilariously bad scenes I’ve ever had the displeasure of viewing a short time later. In this sequence, one of our cast members meets his end (or does he? Depends on which version you see) at the hands (or more accurately, teeth) of our shark. Sargant then cuts to each of the three remaining survivors, each of them mouthing the word ‘nooooo’ in, you got it, slow motion. Add in the cheesy score that swells in the background and you’ve got a scene that a film school applicant would have been embarrassed to have shot.
Finally, Sargant gives us lots of really lame ‘shark POV shots’ throughout the movie—most of them showing a view above the water. Maybe it’s just me, but the average great white doesn’t spend a lot of time swimming toward his prey with his head sticking out of the water. Of course, Spielberg’s original succeeded by constantly placing the viewer in the water at water level—this is as close as Sargant gets to that.
The decision to film a Jaws movie in the Bahamas is an interesting one—while great whites tend to congregate in cooler waters, finding one in the tropics is not completely unthinkable. The primary advantage to shooting in the Bahamas is the clearer water—which is featured throughout the entire film. This allows for a higher degree of visibility for any of the action that takes place in the water (and a lack of visibility during the water scenes have been a constant thorn in the side of the Italian shark flicks for years). Unfortunately, this clearer water also means that your rubber shark is going to be a lot easier to see—therefore, he’d better look good.
You’d think that by the time 1987 had rolled around that fake shark technology would have improved to the point where good old Bruce (Spielberg’s name for his mechanical shark in the original) would look downright silly—but that’s not the case. The fake shark in this film is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure what’s faker in this film—the rubber shark or Mario Van Peebles’ Jamaican accent, but I’m leaning toward the fish. This thing doesn’t glide beneath the surface, it lists, like a boat taking on water. Its mouth doesn’t move while it swims, it’s stiffer than straight up vodka, the paint job is uneven, and it just looks awful.
But wait, it gets worse! Not only does the shark look fake (and not in a good way, like the one in Joe D’Amato’s Sharks: Deep Blood does, either) but it also does things that no shark can do. For instance, this shark not only rises out of the water (apparently balancing on its tail) and holds its position for extended periods of time, it also growls! That’s right, it growls, just like a lion. I bet you never learned that sharks growl while watching those boring National Geographic specials, did you?
Last but not least, you can also actually see the controls operating the shark in several shots during the film. One segment even allows you to see the beast’s completely hollowed out stomach. Now, how’s that for attention to detail?
Things don’t stop there, though—oh no, Jaws: The Revenge is a monument to inept cinema in nearly every way imaginable, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the awful performances from the majority of the cast.
Okay, so it doesn’t seem fair to pick on the cast, does it? I mean, the script is awful, and Michael Caine certainly didn’t make the decision to name his character after a popular kind of sandwich, did he? Still, all of these folks read a script before signing on—so, in my book, they’re as guilty as anyone else involved with this mess.
Frankly, with a cast that includes Mario Van Peebles, Michael Caine, and even Lynn Whitfield in a small supporting role, you’d assume that the performances might not be too bad. You’d also be assuming wrong, for the most part. Caine and company are clearly coasting here, and one can’t help but wonder if they took the roles despite having misgivings about the script solely because it was a shoot in the Bahamas. I mean, there’s nothing quite like getting paid to go on vacation, right? Apparently, everyone here was more interested in taking a siesta than making a film—and it shows. Lorraine Gary does the best she can with the role she’s given, but she’s really not an action hero, nor the person we expect to see confronting a giant shark. Lance Guest is tolerable as her son, but again, he’s really handicapped by the script. Caine is always fun to watch, and here’s no real exception (although, I do think his character is kind of loutish in a way—particularly when he lectures Ellen about getting on with her life). The rest of the cast is forgettable—which is really something of a blessing.
Even with all of these flaws, Jaws: The Revenge does manage to do two things decently—well, okay, do two things and not botch them completely.
First off is the score—the standard John Williams Jaws theme is present and accounted for, although it’s been reworked slightly. I’m not sure what they did to it exactly, but it’s got a deeper and more driving quality to it in spots. It’s not a genuine improvement over the original, but it is a decent variation.
The other thing the film does in a decent fashion is kill off people. There aren’t a lot of deaths in this film, but two of them are fairly impressive in their execution. The first one is the one that opens the film—Sean Brody ends up in the water at night, attacked by the shark (which we never see) before being pulled under. There’s some genuine tension in this sequence (it’s very reminiscent of the opening scene in Spielberg’s film), and you can’t help but think that maybe the movie’s going to be good after seeing it. The second scene comes near the climax, and features a woman snagged off a banana boat by the shark. Here the results are slightly less impressive, only because the shark looks so fake (and the slow motion really highlights that). However, a second shot where the camera looks back to see the shark devouring the struggling woman (she’s tossing about and really selling the scene) is actually pretty good. Of course, neither of these scenes make up for the rest of the film, but they are the small silver linings in some very dark clouds.
Finally, this film has a variety of endings—most the result of feedback from test audiences. In the original version, Mario Van Peebles’ character Jake dies, which upset a lot of audiences. Certain video and television versions implemented an alternate ending, where Jake appears to die, Mike, Hoagie, and Ellen, kill the shark, then Jake pops back to the surface alive and well. The tomfoolery doesn’t stop there, though…in some endings, Ellen rams the shark (which is doing that amazing stand on its tail and growl thing again) with the front of the boat, impaling it and sending it to a watery grave, while in other versions, it sort of explodes (which makes even less sense). If you’re a real masochist, you won’t rest until you’ve seen all of the various versions. Have fun.
And so, nearly 2,300 words after we started, we arrive at the closing. I’m not going to re-iterate why this movie sucks as much as it does here—that should be readily apparent to anyone who’s read this far. Instead, I will leave you with this simple statement: Jaws: The Revenge is a bad film—not so bad it’s good, but genuinely bad…sort of like Manos: The Hands of Fate only not quite that bad. It takes a twisted individual to subject himself to the torture of viewing this film (and an even more twisted one to use 2,000 words describing it)—if you still feel the urge to see this film, even after all my warnings, then I wish you good luck, godspeed, and remind you that you’ve been warned against it.
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