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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Shallows 2016 * * 1/2 Stars

The ShallowsDirector: Jaume Collet-Serra
Year: 2016
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Blake Lively, Brett Cullen, Oscar Jaenada

Jaume Collet-Serra is a capable director when it comes to keeping an audience involved and beguiled. I enjoyed two of his movies starring badass muse, Liam Neeson (Run All Night and 2014's Non-Stop). Now using lots of close-ups and plenty of slow motion shots, he wistfully reboots Jaws for the umpteenth time. Jaume sprinkles upon us, a little bit of Spielberg's monster hit, a little bit of Cast Away, a little bit of Open Water (2003), and a little bit of "The Raft" segment from 1987's Creepshow 2. The result is The Shallows, a conventional yet predictable flick that's stronger than most Peter Benchley sequels and a hundred times better than the critically panned Shark Night (I would hope so).

With a spike in real-life great white attacks being posted all over social media these days, "Shallows" comes off as sort of relevant if not psychic. All I gotta say is dun dun, dun dun, dun dun dun dun dun dun (ha-ha).

Filmed in Australia (which stands in as Mexico), distributed by Columbia Pictures, and clocking in at a paltry running time of 87 minutes, The Shallows is very small scale. With only 4 actors/actresses plus Sully the Seagull, it relegates as a one-woman show. The cinematography by Flavio Marinez Lebiano (he shot 2011's Unknown) is bright and gleaming despite the film's first act which feels like fodder for the tired, MTV generation. And of course there's nods to 1975's Jaws (as mentioned earlier). You have lead Blake Lively pointing a gun at a big ass shark saying, "f*ck you" (Roy Scheider says, "smile you son of a bitch") plus an obligatory cage match reminiscent of what Richard Dreyfuss went through 40+ years ago.

In jest, "Shallows" isn't epic, won't blow your mind, and won't reinvent the "don't go into the water" wheel. It will however, somewhat channel your faith in the survival of the human spirit. The simple concept is there for the taking: One surfer girl, one monstrous "sea dog", mano a mano, and only 200 yards from shore. Heck, I'd pony up 5-10 dollars to see this thing at the local cineplex. Wait, I already did.

Anyway, the story is as follows: Texas-born Nancy (played by Lively) is a medical student who loves to get on her board and carve up some bodacious waves. In the wake of her mother's death, she decides to go to a secluded beach where her mom once surfed after finding out she was pregnant with Nancy. Nance gets a ride to said beach from a local named Carlos (Oscar Jaenada). When she asks him what the name of the place is, he simply says it's "paradise". Nancy then runs into two other locals, surfs a few ripples with them, and after taking a breather, decides to go out for one more ride. Big Mistake. A great white shark is lurking in the water and it intends on attacking and killing Nancy if she doesn't get to land first. Serra films some excellent, initial surfing sequences whether it be the stunt people doing some tube riding or just barreling down the point break. And as for the ocean water featured in The Shallows, well it's beautiful in its midnight blue state and boy is it darn clear.

Now performance-wise, I think Blake Lively does a decent job in "Shallows". Her Nancy gets put through the wringer whether it be her tearing some flesh on corral, getting stung by a jellyfish, or initially getting wounded by the shark thus spurring the notion of gangrene setting in. Nancy is obviously a goodhearted person and Lively channels the character well. Her virtuous voice and wholesome looks are a plus not to mention her ability to naturally convey fear, hope, and pain. Now do I think Lively can carry a movie all by herself? Yes, but only if it doesn't surpass an hour and a half.

As for Jaume Collet-Serra's streamlined direction, well he keeps things moving despite a slight level of implausibility. For instance, Nancy stands on a small rock to try and avoid getting eaten by the shark. Huh? You'd think said shark would be able to just easily rise up and snatch her. On the other end of the spectrum, Serra effectively implores tactics to help Lively's persona fend for her life. You have the use of her necklaces and earrings to repair a wound, the timing of her stop watch to see how fast the menacing shark swims from point a to point b, and documentation on a helmet camera so that someone can call for help and save the stranded Nancy.

In truth, the only thing I wish Jaume would stop doing in his films, is to use visible texts, visible skypes, and visible emojis as plot devices in order to tell his story. It all seems tired by now and rather cliched. Oh and did I mention his ending to "Shallows" (spoiler)? Well it's pretty unjust in scope. You're telling me that a giant shark is gonna bite the dust after running into a couple of steel rods. Ten minutes earlier, that same shark was lit on fire and still galloped ferociously towards Lively's Nancy. Like I said unjust.

Overall, The Shallows is passable entertainment that you'll probably forget about the minute the end credits roll. No matter. After seeing the disaster (ha-ha) that was Independence Day: Resurgence, I sort of needed this change of scenery. Rating: A "waving" 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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