Rated R - Running Time: 1:35 - Released 7/28/99

There are times when an actor shines with the true potential he has within; when the marriage of play and player makes us all shiver with delight simply to witness the result. Then there are times when a guy simply has to pay the rent. For Samuel L. Jackson, this was one of those times. Renny Harlin's Deep Blue Sea, an underwater thriller which borrows heavily on the Jaws theme, is not the type of film to make any actor salivate over the script, but Jackson does as well as he can with a far-fetched plot penned by freshmen Duncan Kennedy and Wayne and Donna Powers.

Jackson plays Russell Franklin, the president of a pharmaceutical company funding an underwater laboratory called Aquatica. The director of the facility, Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows, Wing Commander), takes him on a tour to curry favor and assure continued funding. It seems they're just about to make a major breakthrough re-animating dead human brain cells with a protein they get from the sharks. This, she explains, could bring about the cure for Alzheimer's disease. Franklin is impressed, but when the fishies start displaying superintelligence and ill intentions, everyone gets a little concerned.

During a nasty storm, there is an explosion on the surface (where they apparently store nothing but vast amounts of rocket propellant), and soon the rig is ablaze and in danger of sinking. And those pesky sharks seem to be intentionally targeting their human captors. Our group, still several levels below decks, tries to make it to safety, but every time one of them seems on the verge of a good idea, he gets his midsection chomped out. Which is really disconcerting when you're trying to concentrate. The balance of the film is spent watching the dwindling crew fighting the sharks and the rising water. There is plenty of loud music, lots of long, pointy teeth, and gallons and gallons of squirting blood.

I don't know, maybe I'm spoiled. But we've already seen Jaws and we've already seen The Abyss, so do we really need a low-rent combination of the two? Jackson is obviously out to lunch in this; he has no feeling for this part and it shows. And Burrows is also uninspired; she looks like she's sleepwalking. I had to laugh when, like Sigourney Weaver in Alien, she is forced to strip down to her push-up bra and french-cut panties to fight the creature. Now, that's dedication.

Which brings us to the script. Kennedy, Powers, and Powers, all newcomers to film writing, are clearly children of the computer generation. We have so much cool shark animation that we don't need to worry about character, relationship, or credibility. Though the Aquatica facility is supposed to be on the cutting edge of technology, its infrastructure resembles something dating from about World War II. Susan, though supposedly an accredited scientist, defies ethical guidelines in order to "genetically alter" the sharks. And naturally, Jackson's character had to undergo some horrendous previous experience involving an avalanche and cannibalism to prepare him for this catastrophe. Contrived plot elements and logical discrepancies like these are the reason so many action/effects thrillers fall flat.

The one actor who actually seems to bring something to the film is rap star L L Cool J. Playing "Preacher," the devout cook on Aquatica, he injects his scenes with energy and charisma that reminded me of Scatman Crothers in The Shining. Thank goodness his oven is water-tight, even if the rest of the complex isn't.

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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