Nu Image Films. Director: Bob Misiorowski.
Creature Feature Bleachers Award: Most Shark Dissections.
“Shark Attack” comes to us from the hale and hearty days of the late ’90s, when a title like “Shark Attack” was sufficient by itself without the need to add “Two-Headed,” “Spring Break,” or “Jersey Shore” to the front. The film is a surprisingly serious sharksploitation thriller of middling quality and occasional bad acting. It’s interesting to think that as late as 1999, Nu Image was still trying to treat the sharksploitation genre honestly and straightforwardly— especially considering their eventual lapse into the campiness of “Raging Sharks” and “Shark in Venice” in the following decade. All told, “Shark Attack” really isn’t as bad as it could be, but if you want to watch a good shark attack film from 1999, I’d recommend “Deep Blue Sea” instead.
All is not well in the small South African fishing village of Port Amanzi. Scientist Mark DeSantis (Cordell McQueen) is investigating the sudden increase in shark attacks when two evil policemen kidnap and feed him to a shark. Former colleague Steven McKray (Casper Van Dien) receives a partial e-mail from DeSantis. Being unable to open the e-mail, Steven naturally travels to Africa to find out what happened. Once there, he teams up with DeSantis’s conveniently attractive single sister Corine (Jenny McShane). Together they uncover rival scientist Miles Craven’s (Bentley Mitchum) bizarre scheme to cure cancer using shark juice. But is Craven the true threat, or could the recent spate of shark attacks be part of an even more insidious plot?
Fair warning, there are a goodly number of shark autopsies in this film. According to a disclaimer after the closing credits, “No sharks were damaged or destroyed for the filming of this movie.” I hope you will take that as retroactive comfort for all the time you spent watching a guy cut through the rubbery skin of a dead shark in order to pull out the bloody, slimy guts while looking for a partially-digested human arm.
If nothing else, “Shark Attack” explains why Mr. Rogers always changed his shoes upon entering his home. Like Mr. Rogers, the ill-fated Dr. DeSantis also compulsively changes an article of his attire on a regular basis: upon boarding his boat, he switches out his diving watch for his non-diving watch. He also sings while doing so. (Not really, but that would be funny).
Later, Steven and Caroline conclude that DeSantis must have met with foul play, because he surely wouldn’t have been in the water while wearing his non-diving watch. This finally explains the thought process behind Mr. Rogers’s habitual shoe-changing routine: he wanted to give Mr. McFeely enough clues to avenge him in case he was ever murdered.
This next topic of discussion may constitute something of a spoiler, although it’s really not all that hard to figure out if you’ve ever watched a movie before. Nu Image apparently tried to market “Shark Attack” towards kids, because in addition to the Mr. Rogers element, the film borrows its plot directly from Scooby Doo. Yes, as it turns out, evil real estate developer Lawrence Rhodes (Ernie Hudson) has been artificially increasing the number of shark attacks in order to scare people away from Port Amanzi so that he can cheaply buy up all the land and open an oil drilling platform!
While the villains constitute some of the best characters and worst actors, one in particular leaves me scratching my head. The two evil cops are pretty decent bad guys (one has a great laugh and knows how to use it), but though you might wonder what turned them evil, the most inscrutable character by far is the chief underling, Mr. Hacker (Dave Ridley). True, lack of characterization of minor villains is standard operating procedure in most movies. But Hacker wears a uniform. No one else wears a uniform. Okay, the policemen do, but they wear policemen uniforms. Why does Hacker wear a uniform? Is, or was, he a member of some sort of military force? Is this uniform standard issue for a security firm of which Hacker is the only employee? Did a costume designer say, “Hey, this guy is a henchman; he should have a uniform,” and think nothing more about it?
We may never know why Hacker wears the things he wears, but at least we get a glimpse at the long lost South African cousin of Quint from “Jaws.”
The trailer makes the film look pretty cool, which it sort of is:
“Shark Attack” is available on Amazon.