Jaws is the best film ever made. Because of this, everyone and their cousins were inspired to make a shark movie. Some were either courageous enough or stupid enough to actually get their shark movies made. There are A LOT of shark movies. In spite of all my poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’, I am going to watch them all. I don’t know what will be left of me afterwards.
The Flick: Jaws: the Revenge (1987)
The Chum: Lorraine Gary, Lance Guest, Mario Van Peebles, Karen Young, Michael Caine (actors), Joseph Sargent (director)
Species of Shark: Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
The Meat of the Movie: I love you, fellow Chewers. That is the only way I can justify why I watched Jaws: The Revenge, the only shitty shark movie I have on hand (next year: Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast) that ties in with the holiday season. While you’re all nestled up on your couches, drinking cocoa and mainlining A Christmas Story and Gremlins and Home Alone, remember my sacrifice. Oh, and to top it off, December 22nd was my birthday.
I spent my birthday watching and writing about Jaws: The Revenge. I FUCKING love you, Chewers.
This Fin Flick requires a hefty amount of preface, because we are dealing with the Citizen Kane of shitty shark movies. Not because it’s necessarily the worst shark movie ever, but because it is intrinsically linked to the greatest film ever made. I’m not going to be comparing and contrasting with the other two sequels (don’t worry, their time will come), especially since Jaws: The Revenge seems to be ignoring those films wholesale. I’m also going to assume you aren’t a cinematic neanderthal and have seen the original. With all that out of the way, let’s get personal.
We start with the classic shark POV shot making its way through the Amity Island harbor. We are in immediate copy-and-paste mode from frame one. Even Michael Small’s score can’t help but drench itself completely in John Williams sauce. As the shark rises to the surface, ready to feed, we fade into…
A fish. Getting cooked. Oh, Jaws: The Revenge, you silly goose. I have to believe this is a conscious attempt at priming the audience for the onslaught of ridiculousness yet to come.
The cooker of this little visual joke is none other than Ellen Brody, wife of Chief Martin Brody, who has been unceremoniously killed between movies thanks to a heart attack. I like to think that he woke up one morning and died of fright from realizing he married a science classroom skeleton masquerading as Scott Thompson from The Kids in the Hall.
Ellen is getting dinner ready with her youngest son, Sean, who has followed in his daddy’s footsteps by becoming a keeper of the peace on Amity Island. He stops by the office to check in, and would ya know it, there’s a piece of driftwood stuck on a channel marker that simply must be removed immediately.
In case you have somehow been miraculously spared the knowledge of what Jaws: The Revenge‘s plot entails, let me lay it on you: the shark in this film is deliberately hunting the surviving members of the Brody family. Why? How? NEVER EXPLAINED. Apparently, in the film’s novelization, there is some voodoo witch doctor that is pissed off at the Brody clan and is controlling the shark through magic. As utterly bonkers as that is, at least it’s something.
I took a moment to explain this because it means that this piece of driftwood was not only placed by the shark, but was placed with the knowledge that Sean would be the one to come and remove it. We’re going to have to accept the omniscient powers of Voodoo Shark if we’re going to make it to the end credits.
So, Sean goes out on his police boat to remove the driftwood. By chance, there is a kids’ choir and band practicing for some big Christmas-y event thing nearby onshore. But, Voodoo Shark does not believe in chance. He chose this time and place carefully. The choir on land will drown out any cries for help Sean may attempt when the revengeancing occurs. Voodoo Shark is the unholy weaver of all dark and terrible fates.
Sean leans over and tries to get the driftwood off of the channel marker, when Voodoo Shark emerges from the Stygian depths to claim his first victim: Sean’s left arm. The best part of this scene is that it takes Sean a couple of seconds to realize he’s a few pounds lighter.
As he screams for help, we cut back and forth to the choir singing ‘The First Noel’, and eventually, Voodoo Shark rises once again and devours the young deputy. As inane as the plotting behind all of this is, I actually find this opening to be fairly effective in the way it’s shot and edited. Don’t fret, because that is going to be some of the only praise I lob at the film.
Ellen’s other son, Michael, comes into town for the funeral and brings with him his wife and daughter. The daughter, Thea, is played by Judith Barsi, who you might recognize as the voice of Ducky from The Land Before Time or Anne-Marie from All Dogs Go to Heaven. Here’s some holiday blues for you: when she was just ten years old, Judith Barsi’s father murdered her and her mother, set their bodies on fire and then killed himself. Merry Christmas!
Michael is some marine scientist that works in the Bahamas, and Ellen wants him to quit because she just knows that this shark has a murder boner for all Brodys. How does she know this? NEVER EXPLAINED. She goes off about how even Martin, who died of a heart attack, was actually killed by the fear of the shark. I don’t even mind this because The Fear of the Shark is now my new favorite nonexistent album name.
Michael goes for a mourning walk along the beach with his wife Carla, played by Karen Young. I have a theory that Karen Young opted to replace her salary on this picture with a guaranteed daily supply of Valium, because she is fighting to stay awake in nearly every scene.
At Sean’s funeral, Ellen flashes back to the excellent moment from the first film when Sean was imitating his father. Not only is this insufferable because it reminds you that you could be watching Jaws (a.k.a. the reason cinema was invented), but Ellen decides her flashbacks have to be in a sepia tone, proving that annoying and unnecessary filters existed way before Instagram.
Michael, Carla and Thea all convince Ellen that she should come down and spend the holidays with them in the Bahamas. She agrees, and they all hop on the ferry to the mainland. It’s at this moment that Lorraine Gary realizes that she came out of retirement to be in Jaws: The Revenge, and she begins to sob uncontrollably.
Then, my absolute favorite shot of the movie occurs. We see the piece of driftwood that Voodoo Shark used to entrap Sean lying on the shore somewhere. It’s like a piece out of a pretentious film student’s senior year project. It feels like there should be a French narrator musing about futility over this image. This is now the album cover for The Fear of the Shark.
Now we’re in an airplane flying to the Bahamas and… oh hell yes, Michael Caine is in this movie! He’s the airplane pilot, the oddly named Hoagie, but who cares? It’s Michael Caine! Granted, seeing him makes me realize I could be watching Get Carter instead, but I won’t look this gift horse in the mouth.
After getting serenaded by their taxi driver’s rendition of ‘The Christmas Song’ (every time I hear this song, I think of this scene. I’ve watched the Jaws films way too many times), the Brodys arrive at their Bahamian home. Thea runs out to the dock to play on a rope swing, and Ellen is all, “GET DOWN FROM THERE!” Carla tells Thea to come inside and then Ellen is all, “Oh, I’m sorry.” I know she’s all traumatized and junk, but what a dick move. Grandma Ellen sucks.
Michael takes Ellen to the shed to show off Carla’s abstract sculpture that she’s been commissioned to do for the local government. Hey, time for another attempt at arty symbolism by having part of the sculpture look like some shark jaws. And hey, let’s have Michael stand “inside” of them to further ramp up Ellen’s paranoia that a shark is trying to kill her family. Filmmaking!
Um, why have we suddenly cut to Ellen swimming? Did I fall asleep and miss a scene? Is she suddenly over her entire reason for being in this movie? Oh no, it’s just a dream where she gets attacked by the shark. Moving on.
Let’s go check in with Michael and the exciting world of tagging conch! Michael’s friend and colleague, Jake, is played by Mario Van Peebles and… well, I’m just going to say that I think he gives better performances in Exterminator 2 and Solo.
Now it’s Christmas morning and everyone is sitting around opening presents. Ellen jokes around about how Michael used to get in trouble all the time, and naive little Thea asks if Ellen ever used to spank Uncle Sean. Well, that means it’s time for Ellen to be mopey again and repeat the same line about how she wants Michael to quit his job. I’m glad to see her character has so many facets.
Hey, the movie’s a third of the way over! Guess we should see what’s going on with the shark. Looks like it’s made it’s way to the Bahamas in record time, and man does ol’ Bruce look pretty ragged.
Ellen is on the shore making a sand castle with Thea when she stops and somehow senses the coming of Voodoo Shark. That’s right, it would appear that Ellen has a psychic connection to the shark. Two words: NEVER EXPLAINED. Having such an incredible power can’t be too terrible for her, because as soon as Hoagie comes paddling up in his boat, she’s all better and ready to kick off her feature-length fling with Alfred Pennyworth.
While Ellen and Hoagie are getting their senior citizen swagger on, Jake and Michael are doing some more high-octane conch tagging. Voodoo Shark shows up and wants to make an entrance, so after slinking by Jake in his mini-sub, he launches himself out of the water and starts chewing on the boat, where Michael watches aghast with unconvincing fright. A lot of people love to mention how the animatronic shark’s skin near its head tends to fold over, making it look even more fake and shoddy than it already does. My favorite part of this sequence is illustrated in the animated GIF below, where two of the shark’s teeth just fall right out.
A few more bites and they’ll have to rename the franchise Gums. Oh, that’s been done.
After enduring some leaden romantic scenes between Ellen and Hoagie, it’s New Year’s Eve and everyone is partying down. Jake almost spills the beans about their shark discovery, but Michael gives him one of those “don’t say anything about a shark while my Mom, who thinks a shark is trying to murder me, is sitting right next to us” looks. You know that look.
Whoops, looks like Karen nodded off again.
Hoagie takes Ellen out on the dance floor, so Michael feels the need to get a little Oedipal and cut in. Ellen starts telling him about how she likes Hoagie’s company, trying to soften the blow for that eventual scenario where Michael stumbles upon Hoagie giving his mom a ten inch Caine-ing. She also tells him she’s going to lay off with all the Voodoo Shark nonsense. Great timing, Ellen! Now it’s Michael’s turn to be our paranoid protagonist.
He argues with Jake about pursuing the shark in order to study it, and they agree to divide their time between doing that and continuing their world-changing report on the intricate lives of conch. Then, we get a super important scene of Michael and Carla arguing about Michael forgetting to take the trash out, which leads to a cardboard-flavored love scene between the two of them in Carla’s welding shack. Jesus, Karen Young can’t even stay awake while operating dangerous welding equipment!
Michael and Jake go chumming so that they can attach a locator device to the shark which also measures its heartbeat. When the shark arrives, it displays a new superpower: the ability to float an unbelievable distance above the water. Look at how much of the shark is above the water in this picture:
I have a sneaking suspicion that this won’t be the last time we witness this masterful slice of dumb gold.
Even though this is some high grade stupidity, at least we’re finally getting some decent shark shenanig… ah, shit sandwiches, another googly-eyed love scene between Ellen and Hoagie. Not even Michael Caine’s innate charm could stop Lorraine Gary from pilfering Karen Young’s private Valium stash.
Ellen and Carla discuss the possibility of Ellen running off with Hoagie to the Carribean and… Jesus, the movie is now two-thirds over and this is how we’re setting up Act III? Can I have some of that Valium, Karen?
After an all-too-brief sharky nightmare that Michael has, we have to suffer what is undeniably the worst scene in the entirety of Jaws: The Revenge: Thea imitating Michael just like Sean did with his father in the first film. Why is this the worst scene? Because nothing else has made me want to stop watching the film more than this. To see such an effective and memorable scene lifted and placed into this sacrilegious snoozefest is insulting.
Luckily, the next scene has Michael face to face with the revenge-fueled Voodoo Shark. While in the middle of everyone’s favorite marine pastime of researching conch, the shark shows up and destroys Michael’s mini-sub. This brief moment of welcome action is completely overshadowed by the unintentional reveal of the mechanism underneath the animatronic shark, but at least we’re finally into some sharky fun! Michael swims into a nearby sunken ship, because the shark would never follow him into such tight space. Oh right, this is Voodoo Shark, who swims in and starts stalking about the ship like it ain’t no thing at all. Michael narrowly avoids getting chomped, and as he rigs his scuba tank to propel him to the surface, Voodoo Shark busts through the wall of the ship. Wow, that was actually kind of cool! Guess that means we need to see more of the shark’s mechanical bits in order to transform any genuine enjoyment into cynical enjoyment.
Michael escapes and later that night, Lance Guest wakes up in terror from realizing that he, like Lorraine Gary, is in Jaws: The Revenge.
The next day, Michael gives Jake the old “fall off the horse” speech about getting back in the water. As he’s swimming around, we get a false jump scare courtesy of a moray eel. Thanks, eel. Theel.
Back on shore, the dedication ceremony for Clara’s art piece is underway. The mayor (played by none other than Sweet Sweetback himself, Melvin Van Peebles) is giving some long-winded speech, so Thea is bored as hell. She sees her friend, Margaret, getting on a banana boat with her mother. Clara lets her go and play, but Ellen’s shark senses start tingling. Voodoo Shark’s fin cuts through the crystal clear water, and as the onlookers shout, Voodoo Shark engages its flight power so it can launch out of the water and attack. It misses Thea and grabs one of the other passengers. Who was this woman? Was it Margaret’s mom? Why did Voodoo Shark’s superpowers not include precise Brody targeting? I bet you know what’s coming: NEVER EXPLAINED. This is definitely the most exciting and awfulsome moment to happen in the movie so far, so you should just watch the whole scene to get the full effect:
I love how the victim lady looks like she’s riding a mechanical bull rather than getting devoured by God’s most perfect creation.
Now the film decides that shit is going to kick into gear. The movie may be idiotic, but at least this final chunk of idiocy is propulsive. Ellen steals Michael’s boat so she can get her Ahab on, so Michael and Jake team up with Hoagie and use his plane to go find Ellen. They spot her just as Voodoo Shark is about to spring out of the water and chow on some Brody Burger. Hoagie flies the plane at the shark, and the world is given this gift of an image:
Notice how Voodoo Shark’s snout is trying to escape from its face there for just a second.
Hoagie lands the plane on the water. Michael and Jake swim to the boat, but the shark attacks the plane while Hoagie is still in it! No! Not the only halfway decent performer in this… oh, he’s okay. Never mind.
Jake slaps together some electro-shocker thingamajig to feed to the shark and stands on the boat’s bow pulpit, ready to jab it into the beast’s mouth. Only problem with that plan is that he has to be near the beast’s mouth. Voodoo Shark flight powers activate!
Jake is munched upon by everyone’s favorite flying shark as the rest of our characters look on in horror. And in case you had any doubts as to Voodoo Shark’s aerial prowess, take a look at this mid-meal shot where our toothy antagonist is parallel with the water.
Michael grabs the thingamajig’s transmitter and starts shocking the shark, which causes it to momentarily rise up out of the water and… roar? Roar? Is there no end to Jaws: The Revenge‘s madness? Ellen is steering the boat, and as she turns the boat towards Voodoo Shark, her sepia tone flashbacks reappear. But, now she’s flashing back to Sean’s death? And Martin killing the shark from the first movie? You can’t flashback to events you weren’t present for! The movie has just gone off the rails at this point, and I’m kind of begrudgingly loving it.
As Michael shocks Voodoo Shark one last time, Ellen rams the front of the boat into its side, which blows it up.
Blows. It. Up.
This ending was actually a reshoot, since test audiences didn’t like the original ending, which you can watch here if you really need more Jaws: The Revenge in your life. I prefer the “explode for no reason” ending for two reasons: 1) It’s a perfect capper to a film whose attitude is nothing but a big ball of “Fuck it.” 2) The hasty reshoot means we get one of the dinkiest effects ever to be part of a multi-million dollar production.
That single image kind of sums up the entire film.
Once the shark entrails and more reused footage from the first film has settled, Jake pops back up, saved by the magic of test audience comment cards. When everyone gets back to land, Ellen takes off with Hoagie in his new plane and they fly off into the sunset. It’s then that I figured out what Jaws: The Revenge really is.
It’s Ellen Brody’s deathbed fever dream.
Martin’s heart attack and eventual passing completely broke Ellen, and she could never accept that the love of her life could be taken from her by something so simple. Not when he had survived such a hellish ordeal with that shark. She fell into a spiraling dementia, convinced that Martin was killed by the shark. Her sons did what they could, but eventually, she was past all hope. They put her into a nursing home where she was often heard yelling, “Get out of the water!” to the other patients. As the years dwindled down, her condition took its toll on her physical health, leaving her a husk of a person. In her final moments, fraught with terror that the shark had finally come for her, the doctors gave her a sympathetic dose of bye-bye juice to gently lull her into that final rest. It was in this fading state that she could finally fantasize a new life, with a man that looked a lot like that handsome British fellow from her favorite film, The Italian Job. She vanquished the monster that inhabited her nightmares for as long as she could remember, and with her handsome new beau, she could finally find the peace she was never given in life.
Happy Holidays, Chewers.
Best Meal: The random woman that inadvertently takes the flying shark bullet for Thea on the banana boat.
How the Shark Gets Sushi-ed: Stabbed by the bow of the Neptune’s Folly, which naturally causes the shark to explode. Honestly, your guess is as good as mine.
The Mindless Eating Machine: An animatronic that makes the theme park version of the shark look like the Queen Alien. There’s also some easy-to-miss shots of a real great white during Sean’s death.
Shark Stupidity: Everything. We’ve got a shark that hunts specific people, floats in mid-air, stalks a guy through a sunken ship like an underwater Michael Myers, and roars as if it’s auditioning for the role of Mufasa. This thing assuredly rides the shark short bus.
Hilarity Factor: Not quite as high as you’d think. There’s a bizarro quality to the whole film that allows for a good number of unintentional laughs, and all the dumb shark stuff can illicit a giggle or two, but the film is mostly just boring.
Sink or Swim?: …Really?
Look, the purpose of this column isn’t really one of critical analysis. I’m not that smart. My main goal is to (hopefully) get you to laugh at some silly movies. But, considering that Jaws: The Revenge is the dead-on-arrival conjoined twin of the greatest film ever made, I feel like it deserves a little more than my usually succinct opinion.
There’s no question that Jaws: The Revenge is a Sinker. However, I feel that there are aspects of it that deserve some positive mention, especially in contrast to the majority of films I’ve been featuring/will feature on Fin Flicks.
Joseph Sargent (who died on my birthday, while I was watching Jaws: The Revenge. The universe is awesomely spooky sometimes) can shoot a good-looking movie. For all of its faults, looking terrible is not something you can say about Jaws: The Revenge. The class act photography does clash with the film’s wacky nature and worthless performances to create something otherworldly awful. As in, Jaws: The Revenge doesn’t feel like it came from our universe. This aura of not belonging is what most people seem to respond to with Jaws: The Revenge (and many other beloved “so bad it’s good” flicks), and that certainly makes for some enjoyable mockery.
I think the biggest culprit of this mirror universe feel is the film’s decision to try and be an honest to God character drama amid one of the most absurd plots imaginable. Its desire to connect to some of the themes and feelings of the original only make its moronic qualities that much more apparent.
And as I mentioned earlier, the most glaring bit of idiocy is that the Voodoo Shark is given no rhyme or reason. No matter what the equally asinine explanation would be, anything would be better than the nothing we’re given. The absence of any attempt at explaining things just compounds the lunacy that much more.
If I have to centralize my complaint with the human characters, it’s that the film wants to have two protagonists and neither of them are any good. Lorraine Gary is not a leading actor, and even though she was perfectly fine in the previous Jaws films, I never felt that she stood out on her own. Deciding to shift the focus to her character seems misguided, and Gary does nothing with the part but act crazy or get doe-eyed for Michael Caine (I can at least understand that reaction). And Lance Guest’s Michael is two-dimensional with a capital T. I’ve never seen The Last Starfighter, so I don’t know if he has any leading man chops, but he’s just as somnambulant as Karen Young. I want to believe that comes from a defeatist standpoint of, “Who cares? I’m in Jaws 4.”
But, Michael Small’s score is okay. It’s 90% derivative of the work John Williams did, but that’s good music so I’m happy to hear it. Small does have an original recurring theme that’s pretty effective and eerie, but it’s wasted on the film it’s a part of.
As far as a standalone shark movie goes, it just doesn’t deliver the correct ratio of sharky good times to human plot crap. The last twenty minutes are where all the “good” stuff is, and as batshit as those twenty minutes are, they don’t balance out the tedium you have to sit though. There are only two kills in the movie, and only one is somewhat noteworthy in terms of visceral enjoyment. I think if the mayhem was more evenly spread throughout the running time, there might be some more fun to be had.
Honestly, Jaws: The Revenge isn’t the gonzo train wreck its reputation would lead you to believe it is. It’s primarily a plodding snore, but the doofus elements of the shark stuff are what stick out most in peoples’ minds. As laughable as its premise is, the series really goes out on an awkward whimper more than a brain dead bang. I can’t say for certain yet if it’s the worst Jaws sequel (stay tuned to this column in the future for further developments. …or we can all hash it out in the comments), but it’s definitely the most dimwitted one.
Next Time: We discover the true value of an Academy Award with Halle Berry in Dark Tide.
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