Monday, July 4, 2016

Retro Review: JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987)

(US - 1987)

Directed by Joseph Sargent. Written by Michael De Guzman. Cast: Lorraine Gary, Michael Caine, Lance Guest, Mario Van Peebles, Karen Young, Judith Barsi, Lynn Whitfield, Mitchell Anderson, Cedric Scott, Melvin Van Peebles, Fritzi Jane Courtney, Lee Fierro. (PG-13, 90 mins)

The JAWS franchise was put out of its misery (so far) after hitting rock-bottom with this inept, idiotic fourth installment, in which a now-widowed Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) is convinced that a great white shark--and the entire carcharodon carcharias species--has a personal axe to grind against her family. Yes, it's a vigilante shark (and it roars, like the shark in Enzo G. Castellari's 1982 Italian JAWS ripoff GREAT WHITE), first taking out the younger Brody son, Amity Deputy Sheriff Sean (Mitchell Anderson), then following--yes, following--Ellen when she goes to stay with eldest son Mike (Lance Guest in Dennis Quaid's JAWS 3-D role) and his wife (Karen Young) and daughter (Judith Barsi, who played Gary Busey's daughter in the 1986 B-action gem EYE OF THE TIGER) in the Bahamas, where Mike is part of a marine science research team with his Jamaican buddy (cue excessive use of "Hey, mon!") Jake (Mario Van Peebles). A grieving Ellen finds time for romance with wily local pilot and unlucky gambler Hoagie, played by a slumming Michael Caine, who infamously missed out on accepting his HANNAH AND HER SISTERS Oscar in person because he was stuck in the Bahamas working on this. An oft-cited Caine quote perfectly sums up his feelings on JAWS: THE REVENGE: "I've not seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house it built, and it is terrific."

JAWS: THE REVENGE began shooting in February 1987 and was in theaters just five months later on July 17, 1987. It's no surprise that it's rushed and sloppy, and no doubt the usually reliable journeyman director Joseph Sargent (best known for the 1974 classic THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE) could've done a better job with more money and more time. Even though this was made by Universal, it almost feels like a SUPERMAN IV-style slashed-budget hatchet job, as if Golan & Globus had somehow gotten hold of the JAWS rights and made this on the cheap through Cannon. This was Gary's first acting role since Steven Spielberg's expensive bomb 1941 (1979), and her only starring turn in a big-screen feature. The wife of Universal head Sid Sheinberg, Gary's presence here makes it tough to decide if it's a sincere nod to JAWS (there's also brief appearances by the Chief Brody-slapping Mrs. Kintner as well as the "Are you going to close the beeeeaches?" lady, and a scene where Mike's daughter imitates his actions at the kitchen table, like young Sean did with Chief Brody) or if Sheinberg gave it the green light as a vanity project for his wife. Gary is forced to do one stupid thing after another, including overacting and reacting to flashbacks to things her character couldn't possibly have witnessed (Chief Brody's "Smile you son of a bitch!" from the first film), and she really wasn't of enough importance to the first two films to build a fourth around. Now 78, Gary hasn't acted in a film since and one can't help but wonder if this movie would even exist--at least in this form--if her husband wasn't also the guy running the studio. From everything I've seen and read, she's a nice lady, but did anyone go away from JAWS and JAWS 2 thinking "Good flicks...but they could've used more Lorraine Gary"?

Universal's new Blu-ray, which looks great, has the "Mario Van Peebles survives and they blow the shark up" ending that was used for the film's European release and subsequent US home video editions. The Blu-ray's "alternate ending" (Van Peebles dies and Ellen rams the boat into the shark as it bleeds to death) was actually the US theatrical version's ending back in 1987. Honestly, the "Van Peebles dies" ending works slightly better--and I use the term "better" loosely--since the exploding of the shark involves 12-year-old stock footage from JAWS and looks exactly like the pieced-together, let's-just-get-this-over-with desperation Hail Mary that it is. JAWS: THE REVENGE did nothing for anyone involved with it, though Caine used it to mine some good-natured, self-deprecating yuks over his own mercenary career choices, which in those days were usually dictated by where they were being shot and how nice of a working vacation they'd provide. In July 1988, ten-year-old Barsi was a victim in a tragic murder-suicide in which her father killed her and her mother, then took his own life. She had two projects in the can at the time, both voice performances for Don Bluth animated films: she voiced Ducky in THE LAND BEFORE TIME, released in November 1988, and Anne-Marie in ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN, released in November 1989. Bluth dedicated both films to the young actress.

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