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Deep Blue Sea Subverts Expectations

I have a theory that the best thing a movie can do it be around 90 minutes. There are exceptions, my favorite movie is 150 minutes and Cold Mountain is a beautiful epic that I rewatch regularly. As a rule, however, the length of a movie can often determine how well it’s received. In my opinion 90 minutes is the average attention span for a casual movie viewer. Any movie that goes longer must, as all of the literary magazines that keep rejecting me say, earn its length.

Deep Blue Sea is a shark action/horror film that clocks in at 1 hour and 45 minutes, perfectly respectable since only 1:37 of it is movie time. It’s the kind of movie that you see on Hulu around 7:30, see it’s not that long and say “I haven’t seen that in awhile, let’s throw it on.” Which is exactly how I ended up watching this thriller for the first time in my adult life tonight.

I had seen it several times in high school, the edited version on USA, and remembered only the arguably iconic scene where LL Cool Jay quotes scripture as they all rise with the water to the surface. I remembered it being a pretty terrible action movie, but I have a deep love of terrible action movies (one day I may go on at length about the Fast and the Furious franchise, which I hold near and dear to my heart) so I was game to give this movie another watch.

Yes, in some ways it was a terrible action movie. But it was so much more. It hit every note that you would want in a terrible action movie. There’s gruesome, terribly animated CGI death scenes. There’s the drop right before each death that lets you know that blood is in the water. What sets this movie apart is that it hits the classic moves, but refuses to follow the formula set aside for these movies.

Let’s start with the cast. In your typical “we tried to play god” sci-fi/horror movie, they have a main scientist who thinks they’re better than god, the man with the money, a few expendable scientists, a tough guy who can pull off superhuman feats, and a token black guy who serves for some one liner levity before he is killed. In the 1990s, when this story graced the silver screen, you could throw a dart and hit a movie like this. It wasn’t rare, and they all shared the impossible feats and terrible CGI that was key to Deep Blue Sea. The difference in this movie is that the God-playing scientists is a woman, who is incredibly devious and bloodthirsty for knowledge. She’s so smart that people couldn’t comprehend that she would do what she did because it seemed impossible. The man with the money is traditionally a white male role, but in this movie it’s played by Samuel L Jackson and he’s a well traveled man who climbed Everest before funding The Aquatic Research Lab. The token black character, LL Cool J, survives half the movie on his own before meeting up with what’s left of the group.

The storyline also changes the tune of your typical bad action movie. There’s no love story besides the two auxiliary scientists who were married, and a faint hint of barely addressed sexual tension between the scientist and the punisher (who plays our token rough guy with a past that does most of the action stuff). Normally in these movies, the rough around the edges guy and the straight laced career woman end up as the only survivors, going on to make many babies. But not in this movie. The doc gets bitten in half in an underwater shark dinner scene that had the same level of animation I would have expected from The Sims. The Punisher and LL Cool J are the only two people to make it out alive.

I’m going to be honest, Deep Blue Sea doesn’t have a ton going for it. It was never going to get an Oscar, and the movie has built in commercial stops as if they knew it was made for TV. Even this review of the movie is so weak it’s worse than Leonard reviewing frozen pizzas. But the actors are committed to their roles. When you think the movie is going to swing right, it kicks left. There are some things that you’ll never see coming. Memorable moments will cling with you for the next ten years between this watch and your next. But you’ll be entertained, you’ll cringe, your heart rate will increase at times and you will laugh. At the end of the day, it’s only 90 minutes of your life. You won’t regret it.

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