The fourth and famously awful “Jaws The Revenge” (1987) turns 35 this summer, and it often comes up as one of the worst sequels ever made.
It’s actually slightly better than its atrocious reputation, offers oodles of entertainment value and even has some touches that were ahead of its time. It’s also a movie where a visibly mechanical shark roars before it attacks.
Bad Movie Aficionados, apply your sunblock, adjust your Ray Bans and watch the seas closely.
“Jaws The Revenge” begins with Shark Vision, as we have POV shots of Amity Island from both the bottom of the ocean and via an impossible vantage point.The creature would have to be standing straight up to have that perspective.
It’s not the first time the movie defies logic to absurd (and hilarious) degrees.
The opening credits end with the extreme close up of a dead fish, a visual metaphor so on the nose, I wonder if the filmmakers were hinting to the audience that they knew what the end result would be like.
This is the movie where Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary), the widow of Roy Scheider’s Sheriff Brody, flees from Amity Island for a vacation in the Caribbean…where the shark has followed her. Yes, the exact same shark that eats one of her sons (in a wretched first act scene) is the same that swims thousands of miles to eat her, and the rest of her apparently delicious family, while on vacation.
Playing Michael, the last of the Brody boys, is Lance Guest, who’s quite good but lacks the grit to work as Scheider’s son. There’s also Mario Van Peebles and Lynn Whitfield, terrific actors stuck here playing Caribbean cliches.
I wonder if being in this was the best thing for Van Peebles, since he later gave up on character roles and took to directing the landmark “New Jack City” (1991). Van Peebles’ father, the late, great Melvin Van Peebles, has a quick cameo appearance at the midpoint.
Michael de Guzman’s screenplay sprinkles awkward dialogue throughout, though my favorite is “I’ve always wanted to make love to an angry welder…I’ve dreamed of this since I was a child.”
The line is supposed to be funny, but it’s still a bizarre piece of dialogue. By the way, the name of the boat that Ellen sails while facing the shark is called “Neptune’s Folly.” Again, were the filmmakers sending us a distress signal?
FAST FACT: The 1975 blockbusters “Jaws” earned a whopping $260 million at the U.S. box office, changing summer movies forever. The fourth film in the saga, “Jaws The Revenge,” hauled in just $20 million.
The Michael Small score is quite good, even as it tries really hard to make the classic John Williams score from the original “Jaws” sound new. For all the things about “Jaws The Revenge” that have emerged infamous, it’s the editing that is especially irritating: the scenes of human interaction are good and well-paced, but the shark attack scenes all feel, at best, like works in progress.
When the shark pounces on a victim, there’s always a quick montage of his teeth moving and it’s typically covered with blood even before it makes contact with a victim. Why? Also, the cuts during the final confrontation render the last move against the shark incomprehensible.
I still have no idea, after all these years, what happens to the shark during its final moments (an explosion? Impalement? Another mechanical shark breakdown?).
The shark appears rubbery and barely moves. A scene where the shark pulls a victim off a flotation device and starts chomping away was one that I found disturbing in my youth. Looking at it now, it’s high camp, as the actress thrashing about in the mouth of the rubber shark is doing all the work, while the shark appears low on fuel.
“Jaws The Revenge” isn’t unwatchable and certainly entertains – the scenes of Michael and Jake diving for snails and having frequent run ins with the shark are fun.
I like the trick of uncapping the air tank, in order to quickly zip away from the shark. In fact, these scenes are the basis for the enjoyable “Jaws” Nintendo game that I used to spend hours playing (and make no mistake – that game was based on this movie and not Steven Spielberg’s classic).
Also, while we’re addressing the associations this makes to late 20th century pop culture, it must be said that “Jaws The Revenge” is the least likely to feature a dance set to “You’ve Got It All” by The Jets and yet, it’s in the film.
The casting of Gary in the lead was heavily criticized as nepotism, as her husband was the head of Universal Pictures. Looking at it today, it’s a touch that was ahead of its time.
Gary playing an older, stronger and knowledgeable survivor, being empowered and brave enough to face the monster, is what “Halloween Kills” (and the forthcoming “Halloween Ends”) and “Terminator: Dark Fate,” to name a few, have utilized as the drive of their narratives.
Having Ellen Brody face the shark that has terrorized her family isn’t a bad idea, and Gary is good in this. The problem is that she’s facing a shark that has followed her from Amity to the Bahamas, because “This Time, It’s Personal,” the movie poster tagline that, unlike the film, has become a classic.
“Jaws The Revenge” had an okay opening, then quickly submerged after word of mouth kicked in. It spawned a bestselling paperback novelization, which I’ve been told fleshes out the story and even rationalizes how the shark can swim so far, in so little time, all to eat a specific victim (one word: voodoo).
I’m not defending “Jaws The Revenge” as a misunderstood classic. Nope, it’s bad and hilariously so. That said, this was far from the worst film of 1987: the Bill Cosby led “Leonard Part 6,” the Glad Bags sponsored “Million Dollar Mystery,” the cringe-inducing “Mannequin” and the punishing “Garbage Pail Kids Movie” are all from the same year and so much worse.
This is a Michael Caine master class: he’s so good in this and he really shouldn’t be, as he’s willing to literally go down with the ship alongside his co-stars.
The conviction and natural ability Caine possess as an actor is all over this. His character is named Hoagie, he is the film’s love interest and his lines are every bit as dumb as his co-stars, but Caine’s abilities as an actor elevate his work.
It’s also that Caine, even at this point, is such a pro and had been hired to act in a few clunkers. Caine infamously won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “Hannah and Her Sisters” and couldn’t make the ceremony, because he was busy shooting this.
“Jaws The Revenge” came during that period in his career when he was making turkeys like “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” and “The Island” right alongside “Educating Rita” and “Dressed to Kill.” It was after his second Oscar for “The Cider House Rules” where the quality of the roles and films finally became consistent.
Nevertheless, there’s much to learn about film acting from observing Caine’s commitment, professionalism, and the lived-in weight he gave to any role.
He actually has a moment here where, after evading the shark, he declares “The breath on that thing!” Acting students of all ages, watch and learn – this is what a working actor looks like, giving his all and experience to a film and role that doesn’t deserve him.
Spielberg’s “Jaws” continues to be cribbed from shamelessly and holds up brilliantly. As for this unfortunate but amusingly bad entry, I suggest we acknowledge it as a camp classic but recognize the true Jaws IV, “Deep Blue Sea” (1999), where at least the sharks look real.