*. Jaws: The Revenge (officially there is no numeral in the title, though it’s popularly known as Jaws 4) is a bad movie. Indeed it’s status as a bad movie is notorious, so much so that it is regularly included in lists of the worst movies ever or best-worst movies. How well does its reputation, meaning this reputation for badness, hold up?
*. I’d start out by saying that it had some things going for it. In the first place, while Jaws 3-D had been a terrible movie it had also done well at the box office and the franchise was by no means dead yet. Also quite remarkable, in a good way, is the casting of Lorraine Gary’s Ellen Brody as the hero of the film. I think everyone sitting in the theatre in 1987 would have assumed that Sean Brody was going to inherit the family mantle of shark-killer, and it’s a genuine surprise when he gets gobbled up in the film’s first kill, leaving us with a middle-aged mom as the next Brody up. She’ll have a lot of help, to be sure, but she’s the Mama Bear.
*. That’s about all the credit I can give Jaws: The Revenge though. Gary, who was at least serviceable in her previous appearances in Jaws and Jaws 2 is inexplicably awful here. In the original Peter Benchley novel she had a steamy affair with Hooper but that was cut for the film. Then she was supposed to be courted by the real estate sleazeball in Jaws 2, and that was also cut. But here she’d read the script and was delighted at being romanced by Michael Caine, which was one of the reasons she signed on. And this time she finally gets her groove on.
*. Roy Scheider said that Satan himself couldn’t have got him to appear in this one (he’d been dragged much against his will into Jaws 2). What’s more surprising is that even Dennis Quaid refused to be involved, reprising his role as Mike Brody from Jaws 3-D. His part would be taken by a hirsute Lance Guest, who would in turn be buddied with Mario Van Peebles, affecting a lamentable island accent.
*. Then there’s Michael Caine dropping in to play the beachcomber-pilot-gigolo Hoagie. His pronouncements on the film are now famous. “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.” “Won an Oscar [for Hannah and Her Sisters], built a house, and had a great holiday. Not bad for a flop movie.” So just here to pick up a paycheque, and still he’s the only bright spot on the ocean.
*. To be a great bad movie, however, more is necessary than just incompetence. This is provided here by the weird premise, which suggests that Ellen now has some sort of psychic connection with the shark. Something that, of course, makes no sense because it’s obviously not the same shark as in any of the previous films. I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to be the same shark that kills Sean in the beginning that has followed Ellen to the Bahamas. Maybe all the sharks in the ocean have it in for the Brody clan?
*. I jest, but the story is even more bizarre than this. According to early drafts of the screenplay, from which the novelization was later derived, the shark is guided by a voodoo curse laid on the Brody family by a witch doctor named Papa Jacques. The “revenge” in the title then is not Ellen’s or the shark’s but the revenge of Papa Jacques. But since the witch doctor was left out of the movie we’re not left with any explanation as to what is going on. Which, come to think of it, might be better.
*. The rest of the movie is just crap. As has often been pointed out, Ellen has flashbacks to events she never witnessed, which is much sillier than the unfairly maligned flashbacks that the dog has in The Hills Have Eyes Part II. The shark this time out actually looks even more fake than any of the previous outings. It’s huge, rubbery pink lips reminded me of the Great White in John Singleton Copley’s painting Watson and the Shark. Despite being enormous it has no trouble squeezing into shipwrecks that don’t look to be as big as it is, from stem to stern. The point-of-view shots also indicate that it spends most of its time swimming with its head lifted out of the water. As for how it dies at the end, I couldn’t tell you. Something to do with a radio-controlled explosive? I’m sure they just wanted to blow the damn thing up and all go home.
*. So it’s a bad movie. A good bad movie? Well, most of it is actually pretty dull. While it’s very stupid, it’s rarely laugh-out-loud stupid. I watched it this time just to complete my coverage of the franchise. I never want to see it again. It’s not that good-bad.