Deep Blue Sea (1999)

I don’t know if there’s anyone who would describe anything Renny Harlin’s ever done as “clever” — except maybe “Clever how he tanked Geena Davis’s career” — but darnit if Deep Blue Sea doesn’t display a glimmer of cleverness amidst its arm-gnawing mayhem. There’s a nudge-and-wink awareness of the traditional racial dynamics of horror movies — specifically, the black guy always dying — that runs throughout the film.

In Deep Blue Sea‘s case, there are actually two black guys: Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson), a corporate guy visiting an underwater facility that’s experimenting on sharks (never a good idea) and Preacher (LL Cool J), a cook at said facility. I guess I should issue a SPOILER WARNING at this point, although the movie is over a decade old; if you haven’t seen it by now, you’re probably 7 years old and shouldn’t be watching scary movies anyway, you little cretin. Deep Blue Sea plays upon our expectations of who will die and who won’t, meaning the biggest star in the film, Jackson, gets it very early on — so much so that you have to think he took the role as a favor to Harlin, his Long Kiss Goodnight director.

The fact that Jackson dies is now pretty well known, but when I saw it in the theater, it was a shock — albeit a funny one…until we realized the biggest star remaining was Michael Rapaport. With fellow “black guy” Sam Jackson going down, LL Cool J didn’t seem to stand a chance, but that’s all part of the movie’s…um, “charm”? While the one black guy you think has enough juice to survive is dispatched with ease (and crappy computer animation), the other, a supporting character, not only lives ’til the end but also plays a significant role in dispatching the killer sharks.

Not that he doesn’t have a few scares, though. Knowing that we expect this black guy to meet his maker, the film sets him up in a seemingly winless situation: cornered by the sharks in a flooded kitchen. Even Preacher himself knows his odds are slim, uttering “Brothers never make it out of situations like this! Not ever!”

Just because Deep Blue Sea chooses to reject the standard fate of black characters in horror movies, though, doesn’t prevent it from presenting Preacher as a (relatively mild) “modern spook” stereotype. He’s the street-smart, comic-relief complainer throughout, delivering lines like, “Take me back to the ghetto!” and “Like black men don’t have enough ways to get killed without climbing up some stupid-ass mountain in the middle of God’s nowhere! You leave that to the white folks!” Still, despite LL’s stabs at comedy, Deep Blue Sea manages to be a moderately enjoyable popcorn flick, even if it is responsible for the horrific theme song, “Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)”, in which LL proclaims, “Deepest, bluest, my hat is like a shark’s fin!” Ick.

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