A shark? In Paris? That’s in Seine

Something that’s been in short supply so far this Shark Week is fun. Thankfully, here comes Under Paris, Netflix’s latest high-concept wheeze which sees Paris’ reputation as the City of Lights exchanged for the City of Bites as a giant mako shark (makos making another grab for the shark movie superstardom after the near miss of Mako) travels up the Seine in search of an Olympic breakfast that doesn’t require a Little Chef.

Our adventure starts near the Great Pacific garbage patch, where marine biologist Sophia Assalas (Bérénice Bejo) and her team are tracking a shortfin mako shark nicknamed Lilith. Her husband Chris (Yannick Choirat) leads a dive team to attempt to take a blood sample from Lilith, who has grown significantly since the last sighting. However, Lilith turns aggressive, killing him and the entire dive team. Sophia, in an attempt to save the team, becomes entangled in a net and is dragged deep underwater, suffering injuries from the severe pressure changes as she escapes.

Fast forward three years and Sophia, still grieving for her husband, is now working at a Paris aquarium. But her quiet life is shattered when her environmentalist friend Mika (Léa Léviant) informs her that Lilith’s tracking beacon is still active. Somehow, the shark has traveled from the Pacific to the River Seine and is now trapped in the city. When a man is found dead with shark bite wounds, police diver Adil (Nassim Lyes) recruits Sophia to help track down and eliminate the menace.

Apart from the archly problematic elements of a Pacific shark finding its way to the River Seine and shrugging off the saltwater/freshwater dilemma, there’s a lot to enjoy about Under Paris, a bonkers bad shark movie that embraces its absurdity with an infectious joie de vivre. By entwining the shark shenanigans with the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics, it evokes the Fourth of July imperatives of Jaws. While the Mayor of Paris might not have the sleazy callousness of Larry Vaughan, she’s still determined to ignore the potential threats to her crowning glory, resulting in a gloriously over-the-top finale which sees Paris reckon not only with an infestation of sharks but also the tsunami-generating effects of unexploded World War II ordnance in the riverbed of the Seine.

Its blend of political posturing, eco-soapboxing, and good old-fashioned monster mayhem makes for a gloopy, indulgent French Onion Soup of a movie. Sure, it’s a bit lumpy in parts, but it all just adds to the flavour. The special effects are never less than serviceable, although the shark stuff is better than the digital inundation of Paris, and some of the kills are outright spectacular.

It’s not quite up there with the giants of the genre, although it certainly pays more than sufficient homage to the likes of Deep Blue Sea and Jaws. Under Paris falters because it can’t quite make up its mind what it wants to be, or what it wants us to do—laugh or scream? It can’t quite bring itself to fully embrace the campy silliness of its premise, perhaps too concerned with keeping its Parisian chic to crack a smile, but nevertheless it retains a certain je ne sais quoi which makes it stand out from the crowd.

Under Paris is a good old-fashioned popcorn blockbuster, chock full of Gallic charm and an overabundance of sharks. Absurd and ambitious in equal measure, there’s good reason to believe this is one movie that will get the chance to make good on its sequel-teasing credits stinger.

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