Monday, April 5, 2021

“Sailing, Tennis, Discoing Till Dawn” - Cruel Jaws (1995) - Film #201

It is time to revisit the well of quality that is the film factory of Mr. Bruno Mattei. This time, we will look at the master's shark film homage/remix from 1995, Cruel Jaws. 

Reviewer grkamerican1984 writes, "this movie is just so BAD, it's a wonder Universal Pictures didn't sue" (implying that in your universe a studio can sue because another studio makes a bad film). Reviewer camarossdriver writes, "There is not one good redeeming thing you can say about this train wreck of a movie." And reviewer jorgito2001 writes, "Cruel Jaws is just poorly made, overly long, and BORING!" While it is perhaps unfair to highlight reviewers for criticizing a film they clearly did not understand, please read on for the truth about Cruel Jaws...

In the middle of the night, a boat floats in the ocean. Two divers aboard the boat explain their goals to the grizzled old sea captain (something they might have thought about doing before renting the boat, it seems). “There was top secret Navy materials onboard the Cleveland. We’re going down to retrieve it. We’re gonna sell it, and we’re gonna be rich.”

The divers dive.

In the murky depths, a shark bits one diver’s spear off his speargun, so he shoots at an undersea cave, causing a small landslide. The divers trap themselves inside the cave, apparently to hide from the shark, but the shark makes the problem worse by bumping rocks with its head, further sealing the cave. When the divers attempt to escape, they are surprised the shark is still outside the cave. And the shark attacks the boat too.

Later, a couple in a Winnebago explains to each other their own vacation plans. “What have you got in mind for me this year?” the woman, Vanessa, asks.

The man, Billy, replies, “This year...sailing, tennis, discoing till dawn.”

They reach an outdoor dolphin show where a little girl named Susy swims with dolphins. Despite the fact that Billy and Vanessa and two men are the only people watching, circus music plays in the background and there is wild applause from a nonexistent audience. When Susy climbs out of the water and into a wheelchair, Billy and Vanessa look shocked and horrified that she is disabled, though they know about the accident that killed her mother and injured her.

Susy lives with her father, Dag, and her much older brother, Bob. Their last name is Snerensen (not a made-up name at all). When Susy is away with Vanessa, the family gets a visit from the sheriff, Francis, giving them an eviction order.

Elsewhere, a fit couple discovers a dead body on the beach.

Of course, the sheriff asks Billy, who is a shark researcher, to come to the crime scene and help identify the cause of death. “This looks like the work of a speedboat propeller to me,” the sheriff says.

As Billy investigates, he says, “In my opinion, this wasn’t a speedboat propellor.”

“Then what was it?”

“It could have been a shark.”

“A shark? It did that?” (There is no indication why the sheriff is surprised that a shark researcher thinks it wasn’t a speedboat propellor.)

The sheriff and Billy visit the local evil rich people to tell them about the shark. The evil rich people, of course, pressure them to keep things quiet. Otherwise, the upcoming tourist season will be a bust. Not to mention the local regatta.

“There’s only one shark that can do a job like this,” Billy explains.

“And which one is that?”

“The tiger shark. From the judge of things, it’s got to have a mouth like this.” He spreads his arms about three feet.

In a scene eerily (is eerily the correct word?) similar to the opening scene of Jaws (1975), though with a bit more attempted rape, a couple runs across the beach at night. The woman swims in the water, and we see underwater POV shots of a shark looking up at her (while also seeing quite a bit of the shark itself).

Shockingly, the woman is killed by the shark.

After the film develops a surprisingly violent Romeo-and-Juliet subplot in which one of the Snerensen boys (Bob) dates the daughter (Gloria) of the rich landowner evicting the Snerensen family (in which Gloria’s brothers attempt to poison the Snerensens’ dolphins only to be thwarted by a heroic sea lion), Sheriff Francis casually jumps over a railing and goes to a mall, where he finds Billy watching a slideshow of sharks’ mouths.

The sheriff is continuing to investigate the shark attacks. “Billy, what do we know about sharks?”

Capably mixing his metaphors for intense effect, Billy replies, “Well, we know that they’re a sort of locomotive with a mouthful of butcher...knives. And all they really know how to do is swim, eat, and make baby sharks. And that’s all.”

Back at the Snerensens’ dolphin stage, Mr. Snerensen is confronted by his landlord, Sam Lewis, who angrily tells him, “By the way, tell your Bob to stay away from my daughter, or you can buy another wheelchair.”

At the mention of a wheelchair, Susy starts crying.

Fortunately, the heroic sea lion pushes Sam into the pool.

Sam goes to the major for help, calling the mayor Godfrey Jefferson despite the fact that the doors in the mayor’s office tell us the mayor’s name starts with the letters S-T-E and his last name is Clark. They decide to put shark nets around the bay and continue to hold the annual regatta.

A frustrated Sheriff Francis interrupts Billy and Vanessa in their condo, where they are making out on the couch while a bizarre workout video plays on TV. Vanessa gets angry because Billy wants to help the sheriff put together shark cages, so Vanessa storms out and goes to a disco with a friend. Vanessa flirts with the evil rich man’s son, telling him, “You give off a certain animal magnetism.”

“Hey, I’m a sex machine. I even got a spare set of balls.”

“Does that mean you got enough to go around?”

Also, her friend asks him if he uses a walnut shell for a jockstrap.

When Vanessa and Ronnie go to the beach to make out (near where Bob and Gloria are also making out, Gloria declaring, “We have to keep seeing each other behind in secret”), their friends play a prank pretending they’re the local police busting Vanessa and Ronnie. When their prank works, Tommy laughs. “You two jerks fell for the whole thing like a ton of bricks.”

Vanessa and Ronnie run to shore, unaware they are being chased by a shark that has stumbled upon a pink balloon for some reason.

The town rolls out its plan to protect the regatta. Two soldiers in a small helicopter spot a shark with binoculars (somehow). “Isn’t that a shark.”

“It’s him all right, the son of a bitch.”

“I’ll fix him.”

One of the soldiers aims a rifle out of the helicopter and shoots.

“I got him in the head!”

They pull a dead shark to shore and Billy identifies it as a tiger shark. In another scene reminiscent of Jaws, Billy tells everyone, “I’m not saying that it isn’t him, it probably is. They’re very ferocious and very rare in these waters. But the fact of the matter is, Dad, this jaw span just doesn’t convince me.”

“You’re talking nonsense, boy,” the rich man says. “You’ve been seeing too many movies.”

Billy suggests opening the shark’s stomach to see what it’s eaten, but they don’t do that. Instead, they are distracted by the remains of the boat attacked by the shark at the beginning of the film. Despite this new evidence of a shark attack, the town goes on with its regatta, which turns out to be a windsurfing race.

As the windsurfers start, the film cuts underwater and we see another shark swimming, accompanied by music that sounds somewhat like John Williams’s Jaws theme, though at the end it drifts into a different, synthesizer-heavy style of music. We then see the shark work its way through the shark fence.

Onshore, Mr. Snerensen sees a pink balloon moving in the water and infers the presence of the shark. The carnage begins, consisting of a small number of men falling off their boards into clouds of pink blood.

The shark (which has upwards of half a dozen teeth) even takes a bite out of a dock, threatening one man but not attacking him.

Susy’s wheelchair starts rolling down a dock and she is thrown into the water. Vanessa rescues Susy but Vanessa is pulled underwater and apparently killed.

Susy is taken to the hospital, though she is uninjured. “Sharks are bad,” she tells her father.

“There are far worse animals,” replies Mr. Snerensen when he gets a look at the evil rich man entering the hospital.

Of course, a town meeting is called. Mr. Snerensen warns everybody of the dangers of hunting the shark because nobody seems to take it seriously. He says, “The tiger shark we’re looking for is a homicidal maniac.”

Elsewhere, the evil rich man is threatened by gangsters because the shark attacks are lowering local real estate prices. 

Three of the men—Billy, Mr. Snerensen, and Bob—leave the harbor on their boat to hunt the shark. For some reason, the theme to Star Wars (1977) plays for a few seconds as they put out to sea.

On the boat, Mr. Snerensen makes fun of the equipment Billy has brought along, in another scene vaguely reminiscent of Jaws. He explains to Billy that he wants to lure the shark to the surface and harpoon it like a whale, while Billy’s solution is to use a small fishing rod. “You’re stupid if you think you can get a shark on a fish hook like as if he were a cod.”

“Well,” Billy explains himself, “for want of anything better, maybe we can catch a few squid for tonight’s dinner.”

Meanwhile, on another boat, the villains spot the shark and attempt to shoot it. “Pull over!” Ronnie says before shooting at what appears to be a dolphin leaping from the water. Then the shark dives underneath the boat, which for unknown reasons is near some icebergs.

Eventually, the boat’s propeller digs into the shark, wounding it. The wound is never seen or mentioned again.

In a struggle involving a pot roast tied to a large fish hook, Ronnie is knocked overboard. As a consequence, in a well constructed sequence of terror perhaps influencing the intricate deaths of the Final Destination film series, his girlfriend attempts to rescue him by tossing a gasoline canister at the shark, only to douse her and the rest of her boat mates with gasoline, ignited by the flare gun another boat mate fires inches from the gasoline. Of course, the boat explodes.

On the good guys’ boat, the rudder becomes tangled with ropes for some reason, and Bob jumps into the water to free it. The shark swims nearby but it apparently senses his goodness so it swims away. When he returns to the boat, Billy asks, “Bob, when you were down there, did you notice anything unusual?”

“No. Well, yeah. There’s a wreck down there. Right over there.” (When Bob was in the water, we saw no wreck.)

Sheriff Francis, meanwhile, takes an assault rifle on a helicopter to search for the shark. After a few seconds of searching, he sees the shark nearby. Then he pulls another pot roast from a cooler which has conveniently been sitting in the helicopter and dangles it from the helicopter. The shark immediately breaks the surface.

The sheriff, a native of Florida, cries, “He’s gotta be over eight meters long!”

The pilot replies, “We need a bigger helicopter.”

The sheriff tries to shoot the shark, becoming enraged and using profane epithets against it, before he is tilted out of the helicopter and eaten by the ravenous shark.

Back on land, the evil Mr. Lewis is threatened again by a gangster, but instead of killing him due to declining real estate prices, the gangster introduces Lewis to two thugs hired to take care of the shark for good. The thugs are a little person and a tall man in sunglasses wearing a white t-shirt and black leather vest, so clearly the gangster is not fooling around. “These guys are on the ball.”

Back on the boat, Billy explains the full reality of the situation. A ship called the Cleveland (the wreck Bob saw) was carrying “a shark born in captivity. Top secret naval experiments. A death machine trained to attack the enemy.” The shark lives in the wreck and hunts people in the general area.

The good guys, having returned to land, develop a plan to blow up the wreck of the Cleveland, but first they return to the Snerensen house/seaquarium because Gloria has overheard her father’s confrontation with the thugs. In a sequence of events too complex to describe here, the thugs dress as tourists and rent a boat to search for the wreck of the Cleveland because they will get rich if they take care of the shark, having stolen the good guys’ maps and plans. “The shark’s been trained by the Navy,” says one of the thugs, “and you know how they do it.”

“Don’t worry,” says the other thug, “I was in the Marines.” He dives toward the wreck (or perhaps a child’s model of a shipwreck; it is not completely clear). He is immediately eaten by the shark, which for unknown reasons surfaces to display its prize so the other thug can shoot at it angrily before the shark rams the boat, presumably killing the other thug as well.

The good guys return in their own boat to the shipwreck (or its model). Mr. Snerensen remains aboard while the younger men dive down to the wreck. They tie dynamite to some steel posts while, on the surface, Mr. Snerensen is surprised to see the shark nearby. He fires a gun at it angrily but it is unaffected. 

Billy finds himself the only one remaining underwater, trapped in part of the wreck while the detonator timer ticks down. Soon, however, he switches places with Bob, who dives down to rescue him and then repairs a break in the fuse. Bob returns safely to the boat and the wreck explodes, causing everyone to smile and cheer.

In a clever bit of editing, the explosion appears to send a dolphin jumping straight out of the water, but this is revealed to be the Snerensens’ water show, now attended by nearly a dozen people instead of zero, including Mr. Lewis, who has just lost most of his family. Lewis presents a reward check to Mr. Snerensen before being pushed into the water by the mischievous seal to the applause of the unsympathetic, laughing crowd (closeups of whose mouths might be interpreted to be another joke as the film cuts to its title...Cruel Jaws).

The piece of art that is Cruel Jaws must be lauded for its (one must guess) honest attempt to become the ultimate shark film by remixing themes, dialogue, and footage from previous shark films. While I find most shark films to be uninspired hatchet jobs directed against our finny friends the sharks, Cruel Jaws has a purpose: not to deconstruct the shark film but to synthesize it into its ideal form. As such, director Bruno Mattei is keenly aware that every shark film needs to have local festivals, misguided civil servants, earnest police officers, mild gore, free-for-all shark pursuits involving the public, helicopters, swimsuit models, and (for some reason) explosions, so he proceeds to incorporate these elements as compactly as possible. He also appears to be working under the assumption that shark films also need Romeo and Juliet subplots, threats of economic ruin, and funny seals, so he works these elements in as well. The result, even without considering the ingenious incorporation of footage and music cues from previous films, is a sweet, sweet dessert trifle of all the ingredients making up what can only be called the ultimate shark film.

The film also features an inordinate number of men swearing profusely at sharks while shooting at them, which can only be considered a good thing. If Mr. Mattei's only newly minted contribution to the shark film is the fact that people get incredibly angry at the mere existence of sharks, then he has done his job well. Well, indeed.