Welcome to the endangered species list, Judge Dan Mancini!
You're gonna need a bigger chopper, cabrón."—Trace McGraw
The idea of the Syfy network throwing money at producer Roger Corman to make TV movies in the style of the so-bad-they're-great genre exploitation flicks he churned out during the heyday of his New World Pictures production house in the 1970s and '80s sounds, on its surface, like solid gold. But recapturing lightning in a bottle is a dicey proposition, as demonstrated by 2010's Dinoshark. The title alone suggests delightfully dumbass entertainment. Unfortunately, the movie delivers all of the low-budget amateurism of Corman's old school movies, minus the ample charm of his best efforts.
Facts of the Case
Dinoshark opens with a surprisingly gorgeous sequence (mostly involving stock footage, I'm guessing) of ice calving off of a massive glacier (due to global warming, natch). The tumble of falling ice releases a tadpole version of a pliosaur from its cryo-sleep. The baby dinosaur promptly swims into the depths of the ocean where it grows into a creature with the head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and the spiny body of the shark. The adult monster then heads for the warm waters of Puerta Vallarta, where there's a healthy supply of surfer dudes and chicks in bikinis on which it can feed. Only the combined efforts of environmental science professor and women's water polo coach Carol Brubaker (Iva Hasperger, Vlad), nautical drifter Trace McGraw (Eric Balfour, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ), and paleontologist Dr. Frank Reeves (Corman) can stop the prehistoric monster.
Chief among Dinoshark's many problems is its hollow imitation of one of Corman's most delightful guilty pleasures, 1978's Piranha. Like the earlier film, Dinoshark is a blatant rip-off of Steven Spielberg's Jaws. But Piranha broke free of the limits of its miniscule budget and tight schedule largely because of the playful ingenuity of young director Joe Dante, who would go on to helm major studio-backed productions like The Howling and Gremlins. Dante knew he was making schlock, but that didn't mute his enthusiasm or stop him from directing the hell out of a picture. Piranha is a thoroughly enjoyable case study in what a talented and energetic young filmmaker can do with limited means. Directed by Kevin O'Neill, the visual effects supervisor on the 2010 remake of Piranha, Dinoshark replicates none of the guerilla filmmaking charm of Corman's collaboration with Dante. Instead, it's an overly self-aware jumble of wooden acting, lame references to much better films, and poorly rendered CGI effects that fruitlessly attempt to be both scary and funny. Even with your irony and sarcasm set to maximum, viewing Dinoshark is not a pleasant experience.
The acting is uniformly awful. Eric Balfour headlines the cast and is undoubtedly the most competent performer, but he looks bored in his best moments and befuddled in his worst. At one point early in the movie, he appears stoned or confused or both as he (presumably) improvises a muddled, pointless tale about Trace's encounter with pirates during his travels. Iva Hasperger looks great in a bikini, but delivers dialogue like she's reading it aloud for the first time. Blessed or burdened (depending on how one looks at it) with the post-kill zinger directed at the vicious pliosaur, she manages a delivery so flat it isn't badass or intentionally or unintentionally funny; it's just…blah. The fact that she plays a university professor represents the most senseless assault on women of science since Denise Richards played nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones in the James Bond adventure Die Another Day. To call Corman's performance—which includes an inexplicable sequence in which he diplomatically asks a mariachi band to play more quietly—wooden would be an insult to my coffee table. Still, his urgent command during a phone conversation with Trace to go for the monster's eye is the only time the movie made me laugh, so his performance wasn't all bad, I guess.
Dinoshark is supposed to be a B-movie, and the CGI special effects are supposed to be hokey. I get it. But its layer of self-consciousness doesn't mitigate the off-putting quality of the effects. The movie tries to parody without being a parody; it tries to pay homage while also being an honest-to-goodness horror picture. The result is a digital bloodbath that is neither funny nor frightening. The goofy kills include a surfer eaten mid-wipeout (complete with Wilhelm scream); a douchebag who tosses his one-night stand off of a pier as a joke, then laughs as she's eaten—at least until he finally yanks her chewed torso out of the water; and what was surely intended to be the movie's signature moment: the dinoshark breaching 20 feet out of the water to snatch a helicopter out of the air. The action is a joyless and incoherent mess of poorly composited CG monster, actors thrashing about unconvincingly on the surface of the ocean, and underwater shots enhanced with nearly bloodless computer-generated dismembered limbs. It's all too restrained. Perish the thought that Roger Corman could learn anything from direct-to-video production house The Asylum, but if Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus's cult status has proven nothing else, it's that when you're burdened with a too-meager digital effects budget, you need to either go big or go home. Anything short of a Godzilla-sized prehistoric fish trashing the Golden Gate Bridge or pulling commercial airliners from the sky isn't going to elicit the level of pure What the?! necessary to delight viewers instead of bore them to tears. I understand that Dinoshark is intended as silly, scary fun. It fails to meet its own low standards.
Anchor Bay's presentation of the movie on Blu-ray is pretty spiffy. The 1080p/AVC transfer sports bright, fully saturated colors and a reasonable amount of depth and detail. There are no intrusive digital artifacts. The Dolby TrueHD audio track isn't exactly subtle, but it's loud and makes excellent use of the entire soundstage. Underwater sequences are truly enveloping, and exaggerated directional panning gives the monster a bit of presence in the water.
Extras include a dull but earnest audio commentary by director Kevin O'Neill and producers Roger and Julie Corman, a trailer for the movie, and previews for other modern Corman productions such as Dinocroc Versus Supergator and Sharktopus.
I can't say my expectations were high going into Dinoshark, but I did have my fingers crossed that it would be a bit of mindless, redonkulous fun. It's not.
Guilty as charged.
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