Sharktopus

Sharktopus

**1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

When an unlikely report comes in over the wires that a half-shark, half-octopus, "armed and dangerous", has been spotted off the coast, Stephanie (former Miss USA Shandi Finnessey) speculates that maybe it is all part of a movie.

"Yeah," agrees her boss (Ralph Garman) sarcastically, "I can see that right now: a former Navy Seal-slash-oceanographer is hunting down this abomination before it takes any more lives." As it happens, the pirate radio DJ is bang on, describing with some accuracy the plot of the very film in which he is now appearing. Not only that, but he is called 'Captain Jack' - and later in the film a boat will be dragged down into the water by Kraken-like tentacles à la Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

Copy picture

In other words, Sharktopus may be unashamedly a B-movie whose preposterous premise, encapsulated in the hybrid title, involves a scenario so cliché-bound that it practically writes itself (although it was in fact penned by Mike MacLean, who in the same year brought us Dinocroc Vs. Supergator). Yet it is also schlock of a decidedly metacinematic bent: very much in on its own joke, and smart, in the Platonic fashion, precisely for knowing how dumb it is - and how dumb we are for viewing it. When Stephanie suggests she would gladly watch the movie that Jack has just outlined, the Captain mocks how "easily amused" she is: "I've seen you mesmerised watching a frozen burrito rotate in a microwave oven." Now that's putting us in our place.

It would be all too easy to dismiss Sharktopus as just cashing in on the recent semi-success of Asylum's Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, but in fact its lineage runs far deeper than that, as Declan O'Brien's movie, made for America's SyFy channel, comes with a pedigree as confused as that of its titular, tentacular beast. The film's opening sequence fully acknowledges the prime influence of Jaws by having a large 'Bruce'-like shark swim menacingly up to a bikinied bather – only for the evolutionary tables to be turned on Spielberg as the shark is suddenly plucked out of the water and killed by the bigger, dafter sharktopus. Further up (or down) the genetic chain is Lamberto Bava's Monster Shark, aka Devil Fish, itself a mutated Jaws rip-off featuring a plot so similar to Sharktopus (right down to the monstrous shark-octopus hybrid) that Sharktopus can be considered a reimagining, if not a remake. Add to this the producorial presence of Roger Corman, who was producing and directing his own exploitation flicks long before Spielberg's age could be measured in double digits, and you have a film that mines a long and rich history of psychotronic trash.

Corman even gets his own cameo. As a skimpily clad blonde bends over to pick up the coin that has just made her metal detector beep, the King of the Bs appears as an unnamed dirty old man, leering eagerly at the young woman's shapely form. As she is grabbed, screaming for help, and dragged off by the sharktopus, a bemused Corman just continues watching. And when she has disappeared for good into the bloody water, he shrugs, smiles and pockets the dropped coin for himself. The whole sequence plays out like a short, sweet primer in the formula that Corman's films have been following for over half a century: sexy women and monstrous violence, all in the shameless pursuit of small lucre.

The plot, for what it is worth, revolves around a genetically engineered "killing machine", secretly developed for the US Navy and designated S11 (although by the end, even the film's characters are referring to it as sharktopus). During a test run off Santa Monica, an accident enables the creature to escape, and soon it is wreaking murderous havoc off the coast of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico – where, beyond the reach of union laws, filmmaking is as cheap as the booze and the women.

Its Frankenstein-like creator Nathan Sands (Eric Roberts - yes, the Eric Roberts) dispatches his biochemical engineer daughter Nicole (Sara Malokul Lane), and his one-time employee - and Iraq War veteran - Andy Flynn (Kerem Bursin), to recapture it alive, although by the time it has chomped and stabbed its way through ship painters, bungee jumpers, football jocks, jet skiers, deep sea fishermen and anyone else in its murderous path, the two hunters begin thinking that it might be better to bring this mother down for good.

There are thin subplots involving Captain Jack and his assistant, an unscrupulous journalist (Liv Boughn) and her cameraman (Héctor Jiménez), and a local sub-Quint boatman (Blake Lindsey) – but all these folk are really just fodder for the improbable prodigy with the spear-like spikes on its slimy appendages and the propensity to spend as much time out of the water as in. The creature looks ridiculous - how could it not? – but that is all part of the fun. Meanwhile the cast look as though they are having a whale of a time on their working holiday in the sun, and get to deliver some pricelessly gonzo lines. "Oh no, not like this!" shouts one hapless victim as he is fatally pierced by a tentacle, moments after discussing with a friend what the worst way to die would be. "Oh God, no!" says another in response to the sight of ink in the water.

Is it any good? Well, it is hardly Shakespeare, or Scorsese, but then nor is it trying to be. It will not win any awards for its hammy acting or merely adequate effects, but again, these shortcomings seem an integral part of the overall desired effect. You can, like good ol' Captain Jack, simply refuse to engage with the crazy critter at all on the grounds that "there is no such thing as a sharktopus." You can reassure yourself, along with the fisherman (Michael Gaglio), that "no matter what it was, we're not going to see it again" (although the film does carefully leave room for a sequel further downstream).

Yet perhaps the best response to this essentially critic-proof monstrosity is articulated by the male adolescent tourist who, on seeing the sharktopus graphically attack one of the performers at an open-air show, is heard to declare, "Dude, that's awesome!"

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2011
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A hybrid monster menaces Mexico.
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