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2 items from 1999

Film review: 'Deep Blue Sea'

26 July 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

The newspaper ad for "Deep Blue Sea" kind of says it all: wet and terrified, Saffron Burrows is about to be eaten by a very big shark. One can't help but have certain expectations. See created-by-science monsters go amok! See a feisty crew of adventurers go bye-bye one at a time! See pretty girls die and men ride the giant, man-munching beast.

The Warner Bros. wide release, bumped up to Wednesday, should chomp up the competition, given the awareness and relative uniqueness of the movie.

Shocking but true, we live in an era where the original theatrical release of "Jaws" and its mostly abysmal sequels are ancient history. There really hasn't been a good shark movie since Steven Spielberg's big hit 24 years ago.

Savvy casting -- with a mixture of new faces and character actors -- and director Renny Harlin's extreme-sports approach to the action scenes, cool destructible production design and gruesome special effects, make it all come together in a crowd-roaring swim-hide-die game between unlucky humans and 25-foot-long, genetically altered mako sharks.

Floating research facility Aquatica -- a huge facility with underwater living quarters and laboratories and a fenced-in sea-corral -- is in trouble. Funding might go away, there's a tropical depression headed toward it and someone's been keeping secrets about those strange, messed-with sharks, which may hold the key to regenerating human brain tissue.

The beleaguered head of Aquatica, Dr. Susan McAlester (Burrows) is personally driven to find a cure for Alzheimer's, and she suspects increasing the brain size, and presumably teeth, of makos is making them smarter. And meaner. But her crew is just plain nervous when a seemingly successful experiment -- hurried to save the company and witnessed by a take-charge financial backer (Samuel L. Jackson) -- results in the near gobbling up of the project mastermind (Stellan Skarsgard).

It does take a while for the film to open the human sushi bar, with Jackson's got-the-ax outsider giving Burrows' prickly English gal an excuse to take everyone on a grand tour, and be introduced to chief shark wrangler and aquaman Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), religious cook Sherman "Preacher" Dudley (LL Cool J), Aquatica's excitable engineer Todd Scoggins (Michael Rapaport) and the always budgeted marine biologist/screamer (Jacqueline McKenzie).

But once the three "smart" sharks -- they recognize guns, can swim backwards and behave like 8,000-pound underwater housebreakers -- cause the facility to nearly blow up and sink, with many sections flooded and the survivors separated, "Deep" sees red and there are a half-dozen hoot-and-holler scares and numerous memorable dismemberments.

One doesn't so much root for the sharks (thankfully no attempt is made to really personalize them) as against certain characters, with some of them rudely and quite hilariously removed from the proceedings. (One early clue that the subject matter and appeal of the movie is blood-curdling primal, despite its sci-fi premise that's hard to swallow anyway, is the Film Production's notes, in which casting information is put under the section "Shark Bait".)

"Deep" Heroes Blake and Dudley are at just the right depth for this barn flooder -- guys who know how to survive, how to out-hustle the leaky screenplay and how to fry bogeyfish. Hip-hop artist LL Cool J is sensationally funny, and almost as over-the-top as muscleman Jane. Burrows makes for a delectable but somewhat tart fall girl.

Technical aspects of the widescreen production are generally top-notch given the experienced behind-the-camera crew, including production designer William Sandell ("Small Soldiers"), the editing team of Frank J. Urioste, Derek G. Brechin and Dallas S. Puett, visual effects supervisor Jeffrey A. Okun, animatronic wizard Walt Conti, stunt coordinator R. A. Rondell and underwater director of photography Pete Romana.


Warner Bros.

In association with Village Roadshow Pictures/

Groucho III Film Partnership

An Alan Riche-Tony Ludwig/Akiva Goldsman production

Director:Renny Harlin

Producers:Akiva Goldsman, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche

Screenwriters:Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers, Wayne Powers

Executive producers:Duncan Henderson, Bruce Berman

Director of photography:Stephen Windon

Production designer:William Sandell

Editors:Frank J. Urioste, Derek G. Brechin, Dallas S. Puett

Music:Trevor Rabin

Costume designer:Mark Bridges

Visual effects supervisor:Jeffrey A. Okun

Shark action supervisor:Walt Conti

Casting:Christine Sheaks



Carter Blake:Thomas Jane

Dr. Susan McAlester:Saffron Burrows

Sherman "Preacher" Dudley:LL Cool J

Russell Franklin:Samuel L. Jackson

Janice Higgins:Jacqueline McKenzie

Todd Scoggins:Michael Rapaport

Jim Whitlock:Stellan Skarsgard

Running time -- 105 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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Film review: 'Blast From the Past'

12 February 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

In "Blast From the Past", Brendan Fraser plays a fallout shelter baby who spends the first 35 years of his life ensconced underground with his paranoid father (Christopher Walken) and his long-suffering mother (Sissy Spacek).

Subsiding on a supermarket-sized food supply and old "Honeymooners'" reels, the Webber family has remained blissfully oblivious to a generation of considerable cultural and political change -- not to mention the likes of "Back to the Future", "Late for Dinner", "Encino Man" and other time-warp entries from which the picture has not so cleverly pilfered.

For while the overly extended setup has its amusing moments, when the action finally moves above ground, things go very wrong, very quickly, and "Blast From the Past" goes out in a wobbly whimper rather than a bang.

Although not completely a bomb, the New Line release probably only has one OK weekend before wary audiences "duck and cover."

Succumbing to Cold War hysteria, successful scientist Calvin Webber (Walken), mistakes a plane crash for the Big One and locks himself and his pregnant wife Helen (Spacek) in the mother of all bomb shelters.

Built to resemble a virtual carbon copy of their suburban bungalow -- complete with patio, fully-stocked market and workshop -- the steel-encased bunker is the only home their son Adam Fraser) has ever known. Although he's been schooled in virtually every area by his mom and dad, he's nevertheless completely ill-prepared for the world that awaits him when the shelter's time-released locks open some three decades later.

But as Adam finally sees sky for the first time in his life, the film does a dramatic free fall in the opposite direction. A forced, clunky, romantic pursuit follows, with Alicia Silverstone playing the unwilling, cynical object of Adam's sheltered desire.

We've certainly seen Fraser do the endearing naif shtick before, most notably in "George of the Jungle", "Encino Man" and, most likely, in the upcoming "Dudley Do-Right", only this time the character borders on the gratingly bothersome.

As the streetwise Eve, Silverstone fails to generate the necessary chemistry with Fraser to convince the audience that these two were meant to be together. Dave Foley, meanwhile, manages to add nothing to his tired screen convention of a character -- that of Silverstone's pithy but supportive gay roommate.

Only Walken and, particularly, Spacek manage to make things funny as Fraser's stuck-in-the-'60s parents. Spacek's spiral into a boozy depression is a hoot.

Unfortunately, the moment they're left behind underground, director Hugh Wilson, who shares screenplay credit with newcomer Bill Kelly, appears to be clueless as to where he wants the picture to go next. It in fact goes nowhere, despite incorporating such desperate measures as a trend-grabbing swing dance competition (choreographed by Adam Shankman) and a narrative-salvaging, closing voice-over that comes from out of nowhere.

At least the look was right on the money thanks to Robert Ziembicki's retro production designs (the stone fireplace would have made Rob Petrie envious) and costume designer Mark Bridges' swell way with a cardigan.


New Line Cinema

A Midnight Sun Pictures production

A Hugh Wilson film

Director: Hugh Wilson

Screenwriters: Bill Kelly and Hugh Wilson

Story: Bill Kelly

Producers: Renny Harlin, Hugh Wilson

Executive producers: Amanda Stern, Sunil Perkash, Claire Rudnick Polstein

Director of photography: Jose Luis Alcaine

Production designer: Robert Ziembicki

Editor: Don Brochu

Costume designer: Mark Bridges

Music supervisor: Steve Tyrell

Music: Steve Dorff

Casting: Denise Chamian



Adam Webber: Brendan Fraser

Eve Rostokov: Alicia Silverstone

Calvin Webber: Christopher Walken

Helen Webber: Sissy Spacek

Troy: Dave Foley

Soda Jerk: Joey Slotnick

Running time -- 106 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13


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