Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 15, 2009)
Time for some fun with Strange Sequel Coincidences! In the summer of 1983, multiplexes featured both Jaws 3 and Superman 3. Both of these earned mediocre to poor reviews, and both underperformed at the box office.
After that, one might’ve expected the respective franchises to fade. However, both reappeared in the summer of 1987. In fact, they hit screens within a week of each other; Superman IV: The Quest for Peace came out on July 24, while Jaws the Revenge was released on July 17.
Both flicks also represented the absolute nadir of their franchises. Each one tanked at the box office and received vicious reviews. It took 19 years before the Superman series re-emerged with 2006’s Superman Returns, and we’ve still not seen another Jaws movie. I’d bet the suits decide to revisit the series someday, but the stench of Revenge remains powerful.
After a sojourn in Florida for Jaws 3, Revenge returns us to New England, the site of the first two flicks. We learn that Chief Brody died somewhere along the way, and his son Sean (Mitchell Anderson) now serves as a police deputy with the Amity force. During a routine attempt to clean up some debris offshore, a giant Great White shark attacks and kills Sean.
Sean’s mother Ellen (Lorraine Gary) believes the shark intentionally waited for another Brody to hit the water and went after Sean as revenge for the other sharks the family killed. Oldest son Michael (Lance Guest) thinks she’s cracking up, so he urges her to go to the Bahamas with him and his family.
During his work as a marine biologist, Michael runs across a Great White. This seems remarkable for a few reasons. First, Great Whites avoid warm water climates, so it seems amazing that one shows up in the Bahamas. In addition, the shark appears to avoid other edible targets and it heads straight for Michael. The shark doesn’t get him, but its presence sets various issues into motion as we track its pursuit of the Brody families and their attempts to stay uneaten.
When I first saw the trailer for 1996’s Twister, I thought it made it look as though tornadoes were sentient beings out to get people. This wasn’t true, of course; Twister took lots of liberties, but it didn’t go that far into the realm of fantasy.
To my utter amazement, Revenge does make that absurd leap, as it gives us super-powered sharks with the intelligence to track the Brodys. That, my friends, is what we call a “fatal flaw”. The filmmakers’ decision to turn this into the most bizarre revenge fantasy ever committed to film means that we can never take any aspect of it seriously.
Make no mistake: there’s no room for interpretation here. If the filmmakers had tried a little harder to give us some room for doubt, the movie might’ve been more intriguing. Ellen could’ve received a greater psychological dimension as a woman suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who sees sharks behind every wave.
But Revenge never offers such a viewpoint. Ellen never really questions her sanity, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else does, either. The film doesn’t allow the audience to doubt her mental capacities either, as it quickly makes it clear that the shark really is on the lookout for any Brody she can find.
Almost 22 years after Revenge hit the screens, I still can’t get over the fact that anyone thought the concept of a vengeful, intelligent shark was a good idea for a movie. Heck, at least 1999’s Deep Blue Sea gave us a scientific rationale for its super-sharks; no such explanation exists in Revenge.
Instead, we’re just supposed to accept the shark’s amazing abilities. We have to believe that the shark cares about revenge, thinks out a plan to get back at the Brodys, and can sense whenever one of them hits the water. Apparently the shark has access to plane schedules, as it realizes Ellen has left Amity and zips down to the Bahamas to get her. It also seems to be in many places at once; seconds after any Brody so much as dips a toe in the ocean, it’s right there with teeth a-chomping!
To quote Dr. Evil: riiiiiiiiigght. In the long history of movies, someone must’ve come up with a more ludicrous idea for a plot point, but I can’t think of one right now.
The main concept of the vengeful shark is so insane and absurd that it totally taints everything else. I can suspend disbelief as well as the next guy, but I can’t will myself into the vegetative stupor required to buy into this story. Even if the rest of Revenge was executed as well as the original Jaws, it wouldn’t matter.
Since absolutely nothing about Revenge compares favorably to Jaws - or even its spotty sequel Jaws 2 - I don’t need to worry about any internal conflicts. Sweet Biscuits, what an awful movie! It’s amazing to think Michael Caine won an Oscar the same year this nonsense stunk up the screens. I guess he’s lucky it didn’t come out in the weeks during which the voters cast their ballots or it might’ve crushed his hopes ala Eddie Murphy’s Norbit fiasco.
But Caine isn’t the worst thing about the movie. Indeed, he tries his best to bring some life to the film, even though he often feels like he’s in some buddy movie instead of a shark attack flick; Hoagie the jovial rogue makes one inappropriate wisecrack after another. Mario Van Peebles provides arguably the silliest Caribbean accent on record, and Gary chews up more scenery than the shark.
Speaking of which, “Bruce” in the original film came under attack for not being particularly convincing. That sucker looked perfectly realistic compared to the stiff stinker in Revenge. Rubber bathtub toys offer more believable motion than this film’s shark.
You can smell the cheapness all around Revenge. If you’ve ever taken a movie studio tour, you’ve seen how they shoot water scenes in tanks with painted backdrops. Never had I noticed that fake scenery as clearly as I did during Revenge. You can actually see waves lap up against the tank’s wall!
Really, nothing about Revenge works well. There’s no drama or suspense, and even the shark attack scenes become laughable due to director Joseph Sargent’s relentless overuse of slow motion. The film leaps from one idiotic situation to another with alacrity. This isn’t just a bad film; it’s a stupid one without any redeeming value.