Sony // 2003 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 9th, 2004
Fear strikes where you least expect it.
This ultra-generic tagline fits the equally ultra-generic title, but will the actual film shine brighter than both suggest?
Something is fishy in bayou country. Along the banks of the Mississippi, an enigmatic malice is terrorizing swimmers. Okay, it's not an "enigmatic malice" so much as it's a "freaking shark."
Well, the hungry shark, a unique species that inexplicably transforms to poorly-rendered CGI at any given moment, has been feasting on a buffet of bystanders, until authorities put a $100,000 price tag on its head.
Peripheral to the aquatic assaults are two other stories: Sanders (Lou Diamond Phillips) is an under-performing fisherman who is soon going to see his boat repossessed by the bank. If that happens, he is without a job and a home. He and his friend, Emery (Rob Boltin), are suddenly faced with a lucrative money-making opportunity. Sanders's ex-wife, Kelli (Kristy Swanson), shows up with a proposition: "drill me." Or, maybe it's "drill for me." Yeah, that's the one.
Kelli represents an energy company that has discovered a rich oil supply deep in the bayou, and Sanders has been tagged to help with the drilling. A former all-star driller, Sanders retired after A Tragic Incident™ and is reluctant to bore once again. (Note my careful sidestep of the obvious pun.)
But it is all about the Benjamins after all, and the two hapless fishermen sign on for the profits.
Storyline two involves three criminals out to find $3 million that had been dumped in the river to hide it from the authorities. Brett, "The Aquaman"; Jerry, "The Sniveling Thief"; and Ice (Coolio) "The Bad-Ass Gangster" embark on the retrieval mission, which just happens to be next to the oil refinery.
The desperados collide with the drillers and a hostage situation takes shape...but guns and threats aren't the only danger facing our heroes. The river has welcomed a new guest, and boy is he hungry.
This direct-to-television movie is not really a shark-against-man flick but man-against-man. The shark is merely a vehicle used to dispense some of the more hapless ne'er-do-wells in painful ways.
That, at least, gives Red Water a few points for not sinking into another tired retread of the beast-on-the-rampage genre. But that's not necessarily a gold star either. The movie is still bogged down in clichés and formula. There's a minor twist at the end concerning the villains and to whom their allegiance lies, but beyond that it's pretty straight-up fare, with no doubt in the viewers' minds who will survive and who will be digested.
The filmmakers obviously had a little bit of a budget to throw at this creatureish-feature, with the abundant use of explosions and pyrotechnics. Not to mention the unbridled trifecta of star power that is Lou Diamond Phillips, Kristy Swanson, and Coolio. Given temporary leaves from The Island of Washed-Up Celebrities, these three folks add a little name recognition to the cast and allow the studio to headline actors not named Dean Cain, Kari Wuhrer, or Casper Van Dien.
Of course, you may ask "But isn't the real star of this movie the shark? After all it's featured prominently on the disc cover!"
In response to your question, let me say this: don't ask.
When the filmmakers opt to go with a mechanical shark, disbelief is suspended fairly well. But as soon as the fishy bastard morphs into CGI-shark, ugh. So dopey is the computer animation here that it really just took me right out of the movie, working counterproductively, not only not convincing me a shark was present, but actively telling my brain that a shark or anything remotely resembling a shark was not present.
And I suppose some leeway can be granted on account of the TV-movie budget this flick had to work with. Indeed, if this kind of visual effect showed up in a feature film, fans worldwide would fall on their knees and offer prayers to Jar Jar Binks.
But the filmmakers had a perfectly viable shark model, and maybe it couldn't do some of the required actions in the script, but some hocus-pocus editing and a dark-tinted lens would have been a much better alternative to "Commodore 64-Jaws."
That big gripe out of the way, Red Water certainly isn't horrible, but it's not memorable in any way. And for every decent performance (LDP is pretty likable, actually), there's a wooden one (Kristi Swanson's presence here is solely for the token-love-interest-girl-screaming-so-the-audience-knows-danger-is-near effect).
The video quality, however, is almost as deadly as the shark attacks. Grainy to begin with, the picture takes a complete nosedive when the scenery shifts underwater. It really is pathetic how bad some of the sequences look. The Dolby surround puts forth a little effort when it comes to the explosions, and the score is pushed with force, but lack of a digital cut certainly hurts these types of movies. To hear the approaching shark in the rear surround would have added some real, er, depth.
The shark's demise is pretty cool, actually.
A mediocre take on the shark movie, with a few cool scenes sprinkled here and there. And Lou Diamond Phillips is a force to be reckoned with!
Sorry, but off to the chum bucket you go.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R