Synopsis: Jessie and her friends’ idyllic island vacation turns into a gruesome nightmare when they become the target of an unrelenting great white shark. Desperate to survive, she teams up with a local sea captain to stop the vicious man-eater before it strikes again.
Stars: Nicky Whelan, Trace Adkins, Jeff Fahey, Shane West, Branscombe Richmond, Zoe Cipres, Kim DeLonghi, Porscha Coleman
Director: Justin Lee
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (4.5/10)
Review: Not that they’ve ever truly gone away, but 2022 appears to be the year of the shark film. Over the past nine months, three fin flicks have been released, primarily direct to streaming. My heart couldn’t bring me to take on The Requin and Shark Bait, but I caught The Reef: Stalked and was disappointed to see such a creative vacancy at play. It’s as if no one watches the bad entries and learns from the mistakes. Poor storylines and crummy effects will always equal a lousy experience. Even a hardcore fan like me will eventually abandon all hope of getting a decently made shark thriller.
Dog-paddling behind these three stinkers is Maneater, another sun and sand set creature feature that spends far too much time above the water and not nearly enough under it where the scary stuff takes place. Now, I will give the movie some credit. It opens with a bang. That is to say, it has someone jump in the water only to be eaten almost instantaneously by a mammoth shark. The effects and camera work in this bloody demise felt like something good was on the horizon. Unfortunately, director Justin Lee can’t top that opening, falling back on overbaked acting from his cast and the mere suggestion of a deadly predator to get the job done.
After her fiancé breaks up with her, Jessie (Nicky Whelan, The Wedding Ringer) decides to go on their Hawaiian honeymoon anyway and brings a group of friends along for emotional support. While everyone is partying it up, day-drinking, and enjoying their vacation, Jessie tends to sidle up to the bar, blankly staring into space. Only her best friend Sunny (Porscha Coleman, the most likable character) bothers to swing by and ask, “Are you OK?” This line of questioning will be a recurring theme throughout the movie, with people asking Jessie if she’s OK. Mostly, she’ll mumble “yes,” but occasionally, she’ll launch into her tale of heartbreak, and it’s then you’ll hope a shark will swim up and eat her. Perhaps a booze cruise to a private beach island with a charter boat will shake her out of her funk.
While this pity party rages, brusque Harlan (Trace Adkins, Apache Junction) has lost his daughter to a vicious shark attack and demands justice for his child from the overworked local law enforcement. Unhappy no one is heeding his warning about a deadly shark in the vicinity, he sets out on his boat to track down the shark himself. The timing is perfect because Jessie and her friends have become stranded on their tiny island, unable to get in touch with the skipper, unaware the shark has snacked on him and the first mate.
Through an abundance of bad decisions and stupid conveniences, Jessie’s group goes from 6 to 1. The shark was almost an afterthought during this period. Lee either takes the Spielberg route of not showing the shark or doesn’t seem to mind hokey stock footage. By the time Harlan motors up to help, Jessie makes an about-face from wimpy to warrior to help the Quint-like figure end the shark’s shenanigans.
It feels strange to say it, but perhaps there is too much character development in Maneater. Is that possible? There’s an early scene with Jessie and friends on the boat with the skipper having a group share about their lives. Coming off more like an acting exercise than actual scripted dialogue, it’s an odd moment to plunk down as the movie tries to gain momentum, dragging it to a halt instead of propelling it forward. It shows that the acting isn’t all that bad (trust me, you’ve seen worse) and that there are actually a few you may root for along the way.
With the upcoming Fantastic Fest announcing major programming to bring audiences the most entertaining shark movies from around the world and an IMAX / RealD 3D re-release of the all-time classic JAWS, shark movies will still be swimming around for a while. Here’s hoping that filmmakers do their homework moving forward, learning from the bad decisions of the past to avoid the similar watery fates of movies like Maneater. It’s better than a few other shark movies I’ve sat through, but that’s not saying much.