With “Jaws the Revenge” (citywide) the very notion of the escapist summer movie bottoms out with a joyless gurgle. Dumb beyond belief, hollow, bloody and nonsensical, it’s Universal Studios’ vanity movie, a way of providing employment yet again for its Great White icon.
It is impossible to believe that what is thrashing fitfully around on the screen is related in any way to one of the most successful suspense collaborations ever to terrify an audience. Producer-director Joseph Sargent builds with less rhythm than a Punch and Judy show; family togetherness, shark menace; family, shark, and so on, unendurably. Even before it has eaten, the shark pops up in a veil of blood from its pinky plastic gums. When characters necessary to the plot can’t be spared to be crunched up, they dream that they are, so we watch them mangled in sweaty nightmares.
The poster slogan gives away the entire plot: “This Time It’s Personal.” Yep, that very same shark--which, if memory serves, has been blown into rubbery sharkey bits at least three times before--is with us again. He reappears with the feel for vendetta of a Mafia don and a knowledge of family lineage that would make Debretts proud.
He can single out, from among dozens of feet dangling enticingly below the waterline, the ones which belong to the Brody bunch: mom Ellen (Lorraine Gary), younger son Sean (Mitchell Anderson), bearded marine biologist Michael (Lance Guest), his sculptor-wife (Karen Young) and their cutesy-wootsy little daughter (Judith Barsi).
No use moving, as Michael has prudently done, to the warm waters of the Bahamas, “where there’s never been a Great White.” Having dispatched one family member within the movie’s first nine minutes, the shark navigates the entire length of the Atlantic seaboard in about that much time, to dine out on the rest of the clan.
They have flown to the Bahamas in a plane piloted by the raffish Hoagie (Michael Caine). Mom’s wardrobe seems to have gone on ahead. Taut as a banjo string after her newest loss, Mom scans the horizon line, waiting for the shark’s musical theme, obsessing hysterically when one of her family so much as comes near a glass of water.
Little, lifeless attempts at story are dragged across the trail but Michael de Guzman’s screenplay abandons them at the first sign that they might grow into anything resembling character or coherent action. Son Michael is deeply suspicious of Hoagie’s hearty attentions to his mom, manifested by his calling her “Ellenbrody” at every turn. Mom is deeply suspicious of the shark’s attentions to her entire family. Since Mom is the movie’s anesthestized Captain Ahab, this leads to the sort of searching close-ups they used to lavish on Ingrid Bergman, alternating with flashback hits of memory about moments this mother couldn’t possibly know about, since they happened to people when she wasn’t there. It’s a sort of Jaws Worst Moments product reel, unspooling in strange sepiatone.
The movie’s last major character is Michael’s exuberant partner in marine exploration, Bahamian Mario Van Peebles, eerily gotten up to look like Whoopi Goldberg. The men are the tightest of buddies, which means pages of exposition disguised as male banter and doesn’t explain why, when one half the equation is munched up bloodily, not one foot of film is given to wife, tears, mourning or farewells. Pet goldfish at least get toilet bowl eulogies.
In a wicked mess of unmatched water shots and dreadful interior airplane sequences, the characters outlined in little blue halos, the performances range from the mortifying to the merely immemorable. Against all odds, Lance Guest and Karen Young manage to be warm and credible. Podgy but game, Michael Caine, bravely attempts mouth-to-mouth resusitation on a role which is little more than anecdotes strung together. It is not his finest hour.
In addition to proving that you can never, never go home to this fishtank ever again, “Jaws the Revenge” may have one positive effect: Watching Gary, who appears to be wearing blackboard erasers as shoulder pads, may finally stop one fashion affliction dead in its tracks.