Among this movie’s few achievements is the coining of the instantly cliché tag line ‘This time it’s personal’. It also, like many “Jaws” fans, pretty much ignores “Jaws 3” completely, although not – it has to be said – to deliver a higher quality and more fitting end to the “Jaws” saga.
When Sean Brody is killed by an apparent shark attack, Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) is convinced a great white shark has launched a personal vendetta against her family. After she fails to convince him to stay out of the water, she travels back to the Bahamas with her remaining son Michael, now a marine biologist, in the hope of escaping the shark.
It can’t be a good sign when the opening title sequence begins to dissolve into the movie only to abruptly reverse to allow the ‘produced and directed by’ credit to appear on screen. The fourth instalment of the “Jaws” franchise completes the exponential deterioration in quality from the first film but somehow, it plunges so far into the depths of stupidity and ineptitude that it becomes almost endearing. I certainly enjoy it more than “Jaws 3” and have probably watched it more often too. The eventual end of the opening titles and the dissolve into the eye of the frying fish is one of my strongest memories of this film, which I saw in the cinema at least twice when it was released (there wasn’t much else out at the time, it was a slow summer and “The Lost Boys” – its fellow tricennial celebrant – had already left cinemas). It’s so laughably mundane and at the same time trying to be clever that it just comes across as adorably precocious. It’s an almost neat idea to bait and switch with the shot of a close-up eye but as will become almost routine with this film, it raises more questions than answers. It also implies, given everything else that happens, that Ellen Brody routinely fries whole fish as part of her balanced breakfast.
The director, Joseph Sargent, seems completely out of his depth (ahem) here which comes as a surprise given his long and distinguished television career (he’s the man who brought us “The Corbomite Manoeuvre” in “Star Trek” for example) but he’s utterly hamstrung by the preposterous and nonsensical script and no matter how lush the visuals, you’ll only really remember the stupidity of the plotting and the execrable special effects.
In a way, the most remarkable thing about this movie is that it managed to get any of the original “Jaws” cast back, even though they couldn’t lure the cast of the preceding one to return. Roy Scheider, who famously rejected this movie by saying, “Satan himself could not get me to do Jaws part 4” (thus ending Satan’s nascent career as a talent agent), is roped in for a cameo of sorts thanks to a portrait in Amity’s police station. If he had agreed to come back, as well as earning Satan his 10%, he would have been killed off in the opening scene, a fate which in the ‘finished’ article falls instead to Sean Brody (Mitchell Anderson), and which, for a massive Great White Shark attack, takes forever to actually kill the Amity County deputy.
Michael Brody (Lance Guest) eventually convinces his mother to come back with him and his family to the Bahamas and spend Christmas with them. That’s right folks, “Jaws: The Revenge” is a Christmas movie, as per the legal precedent of Twitter vs Die Hard (2013, ad infinitum). But when the shark follows them to the tropical paradise, the scene is set for a final, fishy showdown.
The cast is actually pretty good; far, far better than the film deserves. Lorraine Gary, in her final film (she retired after making this, who can blame her?) – and despite the sheer mind-numbing absurdity of the plot – gives it her all in portraying an Ellen Brody pushed beyond the limits of endurance or common sense. Lance Guest, the fourth actor to play the role of Michael Brody, does what he can with a script that partners him up with Mario Van Peebles and his multinational accent in some of the best worst shark scenes ever committed to film. It’s bittersweet to see young Judith Barsi as Ellen’s granddaughter in her final on-screen movie performance before her tragic death only two years after the film was released. One of the movie’s few highlights is a genuinely sweet callback to the original film’s cute dinner table scene, this time featuring Guest and Barsi, watched fondly by Lorraine Gary’s Ellen. Of course, though, it’s Michael Caine who steals this movie. He’s tremendous fun and great value in one of his notorious paycheck roles of the eighties. Given the dearth of anything else compelling going on in the movie, it’s a real shame that the filmed subplot of Hoagie smuggling drugs was almost completely cut out of the finished film.
Ultimately, the film’s pseudo-supernatural hokum just doesn’t make sense, mainly because the film doesn’t really acknowledge just how far-out the premise is and so doesn’t explore or justify it in any way. Why is this particular shark after the Brody family? All the other sharks in the previous films died without – at least on-screen – having the chance to catch up with their friends and let them know what’s going on. Are we supposed to believe that all Great White sharks have a shared collective consciousness, a hive mind? Come to think of it, that would have made a better film than this! Added to this is Ellen Brody’s apparent sixth sense about when the shark is around/ approaching/ about to attack. It’s one of the film’s weirdest conceits, which is saying something about a film which first gave us sharks that can roar.
The shark itself is the worst the franchise has seen. Shoddily constructed, enough wiring and mechanisms can be seen to suggest that this psychic shark assassin might actually be a cyborg (again, a better movie than the one we’re presented with) and the ending (theatrical or re-edited version) is a horrific botch job of poor editing and worse science.
Michael Caine has said he enjoyed making the film, as he’d always wanted a holiday to film in Hawaii and, notoriously, has never seen the film although he has ‘seen the house that it built and it is terrific’. The cast does seem to be having fun at least although it’s hard not to imagine the scene where Michael Brody abruptly sprints off in the middle of a conversation was actually Lance Guest trying to escape the production only to be rounded up, returned to the set and forced to complete his scenes.
I still have an inexplicable soft spot for this movie but even nostalgia can’t polish a turd of this magnitude. There is, however, a path to redemption for this film: the last line of the movie has Michel Caine’s Hoagie saying, “When I get back, remind me to tell you what happened when I flew a hundred nuns to Nairobi…”. If Christopher Nolan is looking around for a follow-up to “Dunkirk”, might I suggest that getting his good friend Michael Caine to reprise the role of Hoagie Carmichael in “Holy Nairobi” is the way to go.