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Misunderstood Masterpieces: Jaws: The Revenge

June 6, 2006 | Posted by Will Helm

Often, in cinematic terms, conflicts come to an end in a reckoning. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader faced off in the original Star Wars trilogy and their fight came to an end aboard the second Death Star with Vader’s redemption. The feud between Capt. James T. Kirk and Khan began on the initial run of Star Trek and finally finished in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. These are just two examples of long-running rivalries that culminated in a certain, oft-tragic end in film. So, therefore, it makes sense that the Jaws series would resolve the animosity between the Brody family and a bunch of great white sharks that have a penchant for turning up wherever the family is.

This monumental resolution comes to pass in 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge. As many of the stars of the prior films were either unavailable – or unwilling – to perform in this picture, the filmmakers settled on a cast of relative – at the time – unknowns. Perhaps to bolster the cinematic neophytes, the filmmakers added one lone connection to the preceding films in Lorraine Gary, also known as “Ellen Brody, Chief Brody’s goodly wife.” In addition, perhaps taking a page from adding Oscar-winner Lou Gossett, Jr., to Jaws 3-D, Jaws: The Revenge buttresses its cast with a pièce de résistance: multiple-time Oscar-nominee and – at the time – one-time Oscar winner Michael Caine. Sadly, all of the cinematic stratagems of the filmmakers were all for naught as Jaws: The Revenge was lambasted by critics and came to be considered the worst of all the Jaws films . . . but should it be so? Perhaps, after all these years, Jaws: The Revenge is instead a Misunderstood Masterpiece. Let’s find out!

Once more, the film begins under the sea. I guess everything really is better down where it’s wetter. Usually because it means you don’t have to use lube. The camera surfaces for a moment near a mysterious small village by the waterside. Then it breaks the surface once more, revealing a shipwreck and some random detritus. I hope it’s not the Orca again . . . but it probably is, as the sleepy little hamlet in the distance is, once more, Amity, Massachusetts. And, deep in the heart of Amity, someone fries a fish . . . and it’s Ellen Brody, Chief Brody’s goodly now-widow. Meanwhile, alongside of her, her youngest son Sean (Mitchell Anderson) makes some salad. After a few moments of familial bliss, Mike (Lance Guest) calls from somewhere and a bit of continuity follows.

After dinner – or Ellen Brody going senile and leaving the fish on to fry while she’s gone, burning the house down – Ellen, Sean, and Sean’s girlfriend – who is not a one-legged Lea Thompson; I guess he dumped her after the probable amputation . . . what a jerk – go Christmas shopping in town. Sean, apparently, is the new chief of police and he checks in at the office and some old woman orders him around while there. It seems that he has to clear a channel in the local bay as his assistant – who is probably the son of the new chief from Jaws 2 – is on cow-tipping duty. As in he’s watching for cow tippers, not tipping cows himself. That’d be the rural equivalent of firefighting arsonists.

While Sean walks over to the bay, some guy with giant sideburns yells at a choir. Sean, rather than investigating possible verbal child abuse, merely jokes around with the guy. Hmm . . . so the abuse is tolerated by the establishment! These kids are so going to rebel and burn down Amity in a few years. Anyway, Sean boards the rickety police boat – which has probably been in service since Jaws 2 – and finds a log stuck on a buoy. After positioning the boat nearby, Sean attempts to free the log from the buoy but, just as he releases the stuck flotsam, a shark JUMPS OUT OF THE WATER and bites his arm off! Unfortunately, as Sean isn’t the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail it isn’t but a scratch and Sean freaks out. The shark, attracted by the smell of blood . . . on the boat, comes up once more for the rest of Sean and some of the boat, which ends up sinking the boat. Ah . . . no evidence; the same modus operandi as the sharks before. They’re GOOD. Sean, remarkably still alive, clings to the log; ironically, now he’s a boy stuck on a log, rather than a log stuck on a buoy. The shark finally puts Sean and this scene out of its misery and all is quiet in the bay once more.

Sometime later, Ellen has the ghastly duty of identifying Sean’s body and, perhaps appropriately, she freaks out. Later that day, Mike and his family – wife Carla (Karen Young) and daughter Thea (Judith Barsi) – arrive in Amity for a holiday visit and funeral. I guess Mike’s relationship with Dr. Morgan didn’t work out once they made it to Venezuela. She was probably spending too much time with the dolphins anyway . . . and Mike was too busy transforming from Dennis Quaid to Lance Guest to notice. (In actuality, the events – and stars – of Jaws 3-D are considered apocrypha in the Jaws canon and, therefore, exist like a Gnostic shark-attack gospel.) Mike wishes to comfort his mother, but he needn’t worry as the town’s middle-aged patrol is on hand to do just that. Instead, Mike chats for a bit with Ellen on the beach and, in their conversation, she reveals her greatest fear: the shark is out for REVENGE! Dum-dum-DUM!

Later, Ellen starts to go a bit batty and she freaks out at Mike’s wife for no particular reason and then she states – in a roundabout way – that she’s afraid of the water now. Ah, that explains her insanity: rabies. That afternoon, Mike and Carla walk on the beach together and Mike starts reminiscing about his brother and then he starts running for no reason . . . directly to Sean’s funeral. Somehow, Mike got changed along the way. Perhaps he has super shark-fighting powers as well. At the service, Ellen has flashbacks to things she’s never seen before and, for a pointless stock-footage cameo appearance, Roy Scheider is in them. I suppose she’s a big fan of SeaQuest DSV. After everything settles down for a bit, Mike invites his mom to join him and his family in the Caribbean and, through Thea’s support, Ellen agrees. Of course, she does freak out on the ferry out of Amity; meanwhile, the camera rests on a poignant log washed up on the beach. How Expressionistic! Don’t cry for the log; it’s already dead.

Down in the Bahamas, the small plane carrying the remnants of the Brody family dodges parasailers. Mike, since he’s the nonchalant, cool – and surviving – son, mocks them. Meanwhile, Thea messes with the plane’s pilot, Hoagie Newcombe (Caine). Hmm . . . with a name like “Hoagie,” you’d think he’d be a submarine captain. Somehow, Hoagie reveals – perhaps unwarrantedly – that he’s a gambling debtor and that’s the reason he’s a lowly charter pilot. Ah . . . I guess he lost his submarine in a poker game. Along the way to whatever island the Brody’s reside, Hoagie gives Thea an impromptu flying lesson to kill some time. I guess there really isn’t much to vengeful sharks if the movie has to be padded out like this.

On the island, a taxi driver comically sings Christmas carols to his passengers and then he makes Mike carry his own luggage into his house. It’s so hard to find good help in 1987 . . . even when they sing Christmas carols. Meanwhile, on a nearby pier, Thea goofs around and Ellen isn’t happy about it, since the sharks that terrorize the Brody family have been known to JUMP OUT OF THE WATER. In order to take Ellen’s mind off of Thea’s possible fate, Mike gives his mother the grand tour of the estate and he reveals that he has a goofy statue in his garage. Luckily, he didn’t make it; Carla did . . . and she’s being paid handsomely for it. Ellen, meanwhile, is afraid of it, probably because she doesn’t understand it. Next thing you know, she’ll chase it to a nearby windmill while carrying a torch and a pitchfork.

Some time later, Ellen goes for a swim but, in the midst of her stroke, she panics and a shark eats her. Of course, it was all a dream . . . mainly because I don’t think Ellen’s going to be doing much swimming in the near future. Or ever again. Anyway, the next day, Mike surveys the bottom of the Caribbean in a bitchin’ submersible while some reggae guy (Mario Van Peebles) yells at him from a boat above. Mike, in what has to be a mind-numbingly exciting development, searches for conchs on the sea floor. The reggae guy thinks Mike’s lazy – all Americans are, aren’t they? – and, once Mike comes topside, they argue a bit about it. The reggae guy, not knowing when to say when, goes a bit too far and then they end up wrestling . . . and giggling like schoolgirls. I wonder if someone’s going to end up saying “I wish I knew how to quit you” in Creole.

After work, Mike and the reggae guy – who is actually his marine biologist partner-in-crime, Jake – go home together and share a drink. Not to worry; Jake’s wife Louisa (Lynn Whitfield) is there too, as are the rest of the remaining Brody clan. After some Christmas gifts are exchanged, Ellen freaks out again and Mike takes his leave to chat with her and calm her down; at this point, I’d rather have her committed, but that’s just me. Ellen, perhaps settling into a new role as an overbearing mother, wants Mike to quit his job – and probably move out to the middle of a desert – but Mike, not content to give up his livelihood just because a shark might be out for REVENGE, tries to reassure his mother.

Down in the sea, a nasty, gnarly rubber shark “swims” by. It’s more of a glide than a swim, hence the need for quotation marks. Meanwhile, Ellen and Thea play on the beach and build a sandcastle. After a bit of fun, Ellen stares out at the water and goes catatonic. Luckily, to break up her trance, Hoagie rows up to say “hello.” Elsewhere, on their boat, Mike and Jake study microbes under microscopes and then they joke about . . . something. Mike walks up to the deck and, upon looking toward the beach, he sees Hoagie putting the moves on his mother. Well, a boy’s best friend is his mother, of course, so Mike feels a few pangs of jealousy.

On the beach, Hoagie plays psychiatrist and attempts to get to the bottom of Ellen’s psychosis; unfortunately, she just thinks she’s going crazy . . . which is a pretty accurate self-diagnosis. Hoagie, meanwhile, is skeptical of Ellen’s insanity . . . at least until she states that she can “sense” the shark. Wouldn’t it be just freaky if she were in control of the sharks all along because she secretly wanted her family dead? Oh wait . . . that was the plot of Sleepy Hollow. Spoiler! Hoagie, knowing just how easy crazy chicks can be – even if they’re middle-aged – invites Ellen to go flying with him and he gives her a flying lesson along the way. Then, he tells her some goofy story and finally takes her to a wild, raucous Christmas parade somewhere in the Bahamas. Oh great . . . this is going to turn into a Zalman King movie at any moment.

At sea, Jake searches for rogue conchs underwater – in the bitchin’ submersible – and then the shark swims by to say “hello.” Amazingly, the shark ignores Jake for the most part and, instead, it starts trying to eat Mike’s boat! Well, its brethren have eaten a couple boats and a helicopter so far, so it’s not inconceivable. Simultaneously, Ellen goes catatonic again – since she can “sense” the shark – and then, perhaps to dampen her psychic powers, she starts dancing. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to do the trick, so Ellen tells Hoagie to buy her a drink instead. Hoagie, thinking that this is an opening to get into Ellen’s opening, so to speak, buys her the requested drink and then he tells her to get over her losses. He’s such a sympathetic romantic, isn’t he?

Out on the boat, Mike, unsurprisingly, freaks out; Jake, meanwhile, wants to go off and look for the shark, since fame and riches will surely follow. I guess he’s never heard of Philip the annoying British filmmaker, then. Although how could Jake hear of him? Jaws 3-D never really existed. Mike, wisely, wants Jake to keep their discovery on the down-low, mainly to keep Mike’s mom from freaking out to the point of insanity. Speaking of Ellen, she returns to Mike’s house that evening and, all along the way, Hoagie is regaling her with his goofy, pointless stories. Inside the house, Mike watches from a window until he’s distracted by Carla shooting her panties at him because she wants some nookie. The good thing is that the movie clearly shows her use her hands; if not, then she may just have one powerful vagina. Not that they aren’t powerful to begin with.

A few days following, the whole gang goes to the local casino – where Jake’s wife works – for New Year’s. Once there, they find Hoagie – who is an admitted gambling addict – playing craps and losing badly. He consoles himself by joining the rest of the group and then Jake’s wife Louisa shows up because it’s her birthday as well and they all celebrate that and the holiday. Over copious amounts of alcohol, Jake nearly spills the beans regarding his and Mike’s amazing find earlier in the day, but Mike stifles him just in time. Then, perhaps needing to get away from Jake before he kills him, Mike takes his leave and dances with Ellen, who was dancing with Hoagie. The talk for a bit about Hoagie – which is just so rude – and then Ellen apologizes for being a crazy bitch lately. I guess the prospect of nookie can cure insanity. Mike, knowing more than he lets on, sort of accepts her apology . . . even though there’s a shark out there seeking REVENGE!

The next day – there must be no concept of holidays in marine biology – Jake wants to get the shark, but Mike is reluctant to leave his important conch project behind. Jake, craftily, bargains with Mike and they elect to split their time between tagging conchs and hunting sharks. Then, because he’s a bit of an insulting Caribbean stereotype, Jake orders Mike to loosen up . . . even though Jake was scolding Mike for being lazy earlier in the picture. Continuity, people . . . it’s not that hard. Back at home, a nervous, anxious Mike argues with Carla for no particular reason. Hmm . . . I think that’s called “transference.” Oh, but there is a reason after all: he forgot to take out the trash. Wow. Carla, put out by the shouting match, reconciles herself by welding and then she threatens Mike with the torch. Ah . . . it’s a homage to the family dramas of Jaws 2. Mike, perhaps unwisely, seduces her and, surprisingly, it works.

On the boat, later, Jake chums the water and he watches and waits with a harpoon in his hand with a tracker with the shark’s name on it. The shark, meanwhile, simply floats merrily along – I guess the filmmakers skimped on robotics so they could afford Michael Caine – and everyone on the boat waits patiently for it. The shark finally arrives on the scene and Jake sticks it with the tracker; Mike, meanwhile, goes catatonic. Ah . . . his mother’s insanity is contagious then. Speaking of Ellen, she’s off on another island with Hoagie and, over drinks, he entreats her to fly off with him . . . or, at least, make out. Ellen, perhaps breaking out of her mournful, middle-aged shell, wonders out loud, questioning just why Hoagie is attracted to her. There’s nothing like a ham-handed romance in a vengeful shark movie.

Over on the boat, Mike and Jake follow the shark; all the while, a jealous Mike interrogates Jake about Hoagie’s past, instead of paying attention to where the shark is. Mike’s distraction is their undoing as they unfortunately lose the shark for the day, so they head back to port. That evening, Ellen celebrates her newfound ham-handed romance with Carla and she’s as giddy as a schoolgirl. Speaking of schoolgirls, Thea interrupts the proceedings before serious dirty talk can break out, keeping the film on a PG-13 rating. That night, Mike has nightmares about the shark and then, at the dinner table, Thea apes his mannerisms for no particular reason. Ellen, now not crazy, watches amusedly as Mike catches on and finally loosens up a bit. Something tells me this is a poignant time waster. Ask for them by name.

The next day, Mike searches for more dangerous conchs but the shark, empowered by REVENGE, is coming fast! Mike hops into his bitchin’ submersible in an attempt to get away but the shark, hungry for fiberglass, eats it. Mike, thinking quickly, escapes and swims away; the shark, still seeking REVENGE, follows along and, along the way, lists comically to the side. In the depths of the sea, Mike finds a wrecked boat and he attempts to hide out there; the shark, of course, finds a way in – this is one smart shark – and slowly creeps through the wreckage. Mike, trapped with little hope of survival, takes off his tank and busts it open, shooting himself up to the surface and safety.

Overnight, unsurprisingly, Mike develops insomnia and then, back at work the next day, he wants to go under again because he seeks to conquer his fear. He looks for yet more conchs – those conchs should’ve negotiated for better billing – until he’s frightened by an eel. On the beach, Carla, accompanied by Ellen, Thea, and a bunch of local dignitaries, unveils her municipal sculpture . . . and she isn’t happy that Mike and Jake aren’t there yet. Thea, bored with the proceedings, goes off to ride a banana boat, which is probably the shark equivalent of a fruity dessert. Carla gives a speech to the assembly and, meanwhile, Ellen watches as the shark shows up to snack on Thea. The shark, surprisingly with bad aim after picking off Sean nimbly earlier in the film, misses Thea and eats an innocent bystander or two instead. The tourists, unsurprisingly, are alarmed. Ellen, meanwhile, finally goes over the edge and she steals Mike’s boat and goes off to find the shark.

Mike, unaware of all the drama while he was out to sea, goes home to find chaos afoot and then he reveals to his wife that he knew about the shark for 75% of the film or so. Carla, unsurprisingly, freaks out at Mike – I think that’s legal grounds for divorce in the Bahamas – and then Mike discovers that his boat is gone! Mike, finally, decides that it’s no longer time to study the shark . . . it’s time for REVENGE! Wait . . . is that what the title was referring to all along? I’m confused. In order to facilitate his vengeance, Mike rounds up Jake and Hoagie to help him on his quest and Mike and Hoagie somehow, even though it’s totally illogical, convince Jake that the shark is, indeed, out for REVENGE! Wait . . . the shark’s still out for REVENGE too? Damn you, movie.

After some peaceful sailing, Ellen and the shark finally prepare for their inevitable showdown; in the interim, Mike, Jake, and Hoagie find her and the shark squaring off. After Hoagie distracts the shark with a low fly-by, he then preposterously lands his plane in the water and Mike and Jake dive out and swim over to the boat. Hoagie, meanwhile, isn’t so lucky as the shark eats his plane! Hmm . . . so now that’s a few boats, a helicopter, and a plane. Go get ‘em, Jaws!

After Mike and Jake board the ship, Ellen freaks out because now all the surviving purebred Brody’s are in one place – even though Ellen really isn’t a Brody per se. Moments later, a very wet – but remarkably dry-clothed – Hoagie climbs aboard and Ellen goes catatonic again. Meanwhile, Mike and Jake, using SCIENCE, rig up a device to shock the shark into madness. Unfortunately, they lose track of it while gloating over their master plan . . . until the shark JUMPS OUT OF THE WATER and eats Jake and his device.

Mike, now seeking REVENGE for nearly everyone in the entire film, readies Jake’s device’s accompaniment while Ellen has flashbacks to things she’s never seen unless she’s watched the prior Jaws films. Mike finally activates Jake’s device, shocking the shark, which – in response – JUMPS OUT OF THE WATER AND MAKES GODZILLA NOISES! Hmm . . . I never knew sharks had the capacity to roar! Thanks for the science lesson, Jaws: The Revenge! Ellen, at the helm of the boat, finally cracks and takes a ramming tack toward the convulsing, screaming shark . . . and, as she spears it, it explodes for no discernible reason! Of course, her gambit wrecks the boat but, in the aftermath, Mike, Ellen, and Hoagie cling to the wreckage and then a very bloody – but alive – Jake swims over. As a denouement, Ellen flies off with Hoagie and there is much rejoicing . . . until it turns out that he’s actually a modern day Bluebeard. Dum-dum-DUM!

Alright, so maybe I made that very last bit up. Not that it really matters, though, as Jaws: The Revenge needs all the punching up it can get. Even though it is considered the worst of the Jaws franchise, surprisingly it isn’t as dull as Jaws 2 nor as insipid as Jaws 3-D. In actuality, Jaws: The Revenge harkens back to the unrealized Jaws 3, People 0 in that it is comically bad. Between the mass insanity of the remaining Brody clan to a vengeful, largely immobile, roaring shark, Jaws: The Revenge entertains in a way totally unintended by the filmmakers but, oddly enough, that makes it better than two of its predecessors and that can only mean one thing: it’s a definite Misunderstood Masterpiece.

Join me next week as I expound on the presence of Michael Caine in this film and begin a trilogy studying what happens when good actors go bad . . . especially when they play lovable aliens. See you then!


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Will Helm
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