If you’re worried that we’ve moved beyond the era of movie star led shark shenanigans, never fear: “Shark Attack” (kudos on the effort in titling this one, guys) brings us none other than Casper Van Dien and Ernie Hudson. Yes, the stars of “Starship Troopers”, “Ghostbusters” and “Congo” are giving up bugs and spooks and apes to take on the ocean’s apex predator. Sort of.
In a quiet South African fishing village of Port Amanzi, something is lurking in the water. The local fishermen can find no fish to catch and the town’s economy is collapsing. When a marine biologist friend of his mysteriously vanishes, Steven McKray (van Dien) arrives to investigate. He quickly discovers that something fishy is going on at the local marine research institute.
The film opens with a surprise attack, only this time it’s by some crooked (or at least overly zealous) cops. Made in the days before cheap and cheerful CGI, this 1999 movie starts building the tension from the very first scene as we watch a 16kb modem upload a vital email to our soon-to-arrive hero. Alas, its transmission is interrupted by the corrupt cops and, after slashing him with a machete they throw him overboard to be devoured by some stock footage.
The film’s first shark attack itself is curiously bloodless; all Dutch angles and stock footage but where the shark effects are pretty lame, the physical props are actually pretty good. So good, in fact, that I’m not sure if they actually used a real dead shark in the autopsy scene. The stock footage used isn’t too bad – if a little repetitive – and at least they’ve made a bit of an effort to grade the footage to the colour of the water of the filming locations so it’s not too intrusive.
Plot wise, it’s a bit of a mishmash between the character beats of “Jaws” (consider Van Dien’s McKray a hybrid of Chief Brody and Matt Hooper) and the plot of its big screen contemporary “Deep Blue Sea”, as the reason for the shark’s unusually aggressive behaviour is revealed to be due to genetic experimentation in the pursuit of a cure for cancer. However, if you were looking forward to seeing Johnny Rico and Winston Zedmore teaming up to take on the bad guys (and fish) you’re in for a disappointment, because Hudson is the shady businessman whose taking advantage of the shark attacks to drive the seafront businesses into the ground and buy up the beachfront property. Apart from some of the ‘South African’ accents being hilariously off, it’s decidedly average fare, never living up to its script’s crowning glory revealing that Hudson is intent on selling the village to ‘the oil company who have just struck gold’. While it’s disappointing that “Shark Attack” isn’t terrible – nor terribly good either – it’s really much more of a dull thriller with sharks than a monster shark movie. All is not lost, though: this is one franchise which would end up giving so much more to the bad shark genre…