There’s no denying the ambition of this frankly barmy entry in the sharksploitation oeuvre, opening as it does with an ominous montage of underwater scenes intercut with Cold War newsreel footage and Robert Oppenheimer quotes. It’s the closest we get to a real explanation of how the shark became nuclear, so just go with it.
When a radioactive shark which burns as it bites and even causes people eating at a local seafood restaurant to burst into flames, it’s up to a band of plucky local lifeguards and a local film crew to hunt down and destroy the Atomic Shark before it destroys the West Coast.
Taking a leaf out of the “Jaws” playbook, “Atomic Shark” opens with a quick kill then spends the next half an hour dealing with sceptical authorities. Their scepticism is a little bit hard to credit given the cheaply animated shark glows bright orange and causes the water to smoke as it swims around. Not boil – smoke.
Star names on offer are Jeff “Lawnmower Man” Fahey and David “Married With Children” Faustino but they’re merely supporting players to the lead characters, lifeguards Gina (Rachele Brooke Smith) and Kaplan (Bobby Campo). They’re likeable enough and their performances are fine so it’s left to the story and production values to let the side down. And boy, do they.
There’s no semblance of coherent structure or timing in the narrative or direction and zero continuity of lighting between shots, although the use of drones both in the story and in the production is a novel touch. It wants to be fun and quirky but it’s too unfocused to really pull it off and tonally it’s all over the place. Bad shark movies have a long and distinguished track record of not understanding basic science. Ignorance of marine biology is almost a given, physics is often a challenge but “Atomic Shark” manages to set a new benchmark low by apparently not understanding how fire works, a privilege humanity has enjoyed since the Palaeolithic era.
There are some genuinely bonkers ideas on offer here, such as fish irradiated by the shark so they cause the people who eat them to spontaneously combust but the kills are generally quite bloodless and lacking in any gore. There’s only really one brutal death that feels really out of place, which is the death of the sidekick kid character and wannabe sex pest.
Some amusing ideas and likeable performances are undermined by cheaper than usual effects and an utterly incoherent and stupid finale but if you’ve a hankering for Baywatch swimming costumes and more barbecued fish than you know what to do with, “Atomic Shark” is the movie for you.