When Sheriff Sean Brody is killed by a Great White off the coast of Amity, his mother Ellen (Lorraine Gary) travels to her eldest son Michael’s home in the Bahamas. Ellen believes the shark responsible for Sean’s death was related to the one that her late husband killed in the original Jaws. Even more amazingly, the same deadly fish that killed her son is supposedly seeking revenge and tracks Ellen down to the Bahamas with murderous intent.
For the first few minutes of Jaws: The Revenge, the third and final film in the franchise appears to be an almost dignified return to a more serious, family-focused form, having more in common with the first movie than any of its bungled follow-ups. After Jaws 3’s deviation from Amity to an exaggerated fantasy SeaWorld, a return to roots fourth film would have seemed a noble attempt to salvage dignity from the wreckage of the sequels. But events swiftly descend into the totally implausible when the vengeance element comes into play. Jaws: The Revenge then disentangles from logic and twists into a gargantuan mess: the type of career toppling disaster that haunts the annals of film history. In the film-makers’ favour, the “revenge” element of the story, title and marketing could have been attributed to Ellen and Michael, seeking vengeance for the killing of Sean. Ellen’s seemingly psychic connection to the shark could be a delusional construct of her grief, but the film’s fumbled execution suggests otherwise, and there is no justification for the fish tracking her to the Bahamas.
The practical effects of Jaws: The Revenge are a vast improvement on its predecessor, but the performances, dialogue and story crumbles into a hideous ruin. It could almost be considered a work of comedy genius if it wasn’t so agonising to sit through. Director Joseph Sargent is evidently the key culprit/ catalyst/ for the downfall along with screenwriter Michael D Guzman. Sargent couldn’t direct vomit into a bin if he was hanging directly over it and fails to muster the dimmest modicum of tension in his cosmically botched suspense scenes, and also fails to rouse sentiment during the grieving/ family tragedy sequences. Considering the harrowing nature of the story and the world’s love for the original, it shouldn’t be too difficult to incite some kind of credible empathy. Clearly the cast are a contributing factor too and unable to effectively deliver Guzman’s slapdash dialogue, but they don’t have much to work with. As a result, Jaws: The Revenge is often highly comical. Sargent extracts over-dramatic ham acting via hackneyed dialogue, garnished with orchestral overkill in attempt to govern emotions. Slow-motion action/ death scenes linger on pivotal moments to establish their importance which is passé even for a parody. But in all seriousness, it’s quite hilarious.
Jaws: The Revenge references the original Jaws by replicating classic scenes from the masterpiece and integrating flashbacks, which frequently feels cheap and indolent. As for the supporting cast: Michael Caine jests as a Bahamas based pilot called Hoagie while also serving as a potential love interest for Ellen. Mike Brody, this time played by Lance Guest (The Last Starfighter, Halloween 2), rocks the double denim but has the screen presence of a vacuum and is hugely forgettable. Mario Van Peebles grates as Jake: a marine biologist co-worker of Mike who is “fed up with all this paradise bullshit” and has his eyes on greater chores than collecting snails for a living. Meanwhile, Ellen spends most of the story justly traumatised by the death of her son but Lorraine Gary delivers the best performance by far.
Ultimately the flunky direction is Jaws: The Revenge’s ultimate downfall but the comedy it spawns as a result, is a welcome, if not redeeming facet. There are many unpredictably rib-tickling moments that go some way to rocking the boat and provide trifling entertainment : Ellen telling Michael she wants him to get out of the water when he is sitting directly in front of her in the kitchen. The fact that she knows the shark is coming is over-emphasised in a scene that sees her disturbed by an apparition of the fish attacking Michael, even though she is nowhere near him at the time. The awful dialogue that accompanies it’s tragic moments is also witty when heard in context, instead of read in a scathing review but that is not a reason to seek the film out. We can all be thankful that this was the final entry in a franchise that started majestically and then crumbled into wincing atrocity. Along with the other sequels, Jaws: The Revenge has a good stab at tarnishing the memory of Spielberg’s original classic but mostly makes you only appreciate it even more.
Words: Dan Goodwin