Friday, August 8, 2014

Creature (1998)

I think it’s time to re-evaluate my life choices. I’ve told a couple of my friends about this week’s movie already: “Hey, I’m doing a three hour TV movie about a shark that walks on land!” The responses have been pretty much universal across the board: “I don’t know how you keep doing this.”

And they’re right! What the fuck am I doing? These days I do serious editorial pieces about movies and society. Then I get drunk and go “hey! Let’s do a dumb B-movie about a shark that walks on land! Piranha 3DD wasn’t enough of a warning for me!” The right side of my brain goes “No! NOOOOOOOOO!” Then the other side shoves it out of the way and is like “No, this is the greatest idea ever!”

So here we are.

Director: Stuart Gillard
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Kim Catrall, Giancarlo Esposito

This was adapted from a book called White Shark, by Peter Benchley, who also wrote the book that inspired Jaws. With that pedigree, you’d think they would have tried a bit harder with the movie, released only four years after the book came out. And you’d be wrong. Great DVD cover, too, by the way. Having the word "creature" over just the two of them standing there. Is the creature Craig Nelson's chest hair?

We start off with Super Secret Military Base Fun Time as some guy is coming to look at a big project being done on this deserted island, where all good projects are done of course. I've never seen a project on a deserted remote island go wrong in a movie at all! Then again I am extremely naive and stupid.

We get the explanation as follows - they tried to combine a shark and a man into one horrific abomination. We see exactly how well THAT went when, like five minutes into their little show-and-tell, something goes horribly wrong and the man-shark starts killing everyone:

These guys sure are the best! More evidence of that will follow later…

I guess this one guy played by Giancarlo Esposito, later of Breaking Bad fame, has to draw the creature away and kill it so it doesn’t reach the mainland. We don’t really see whether he does or not. But I’m sure he’ll come back and get that lab, remodel it and then use it to cook meth in later.

The movie’s current timeline actually starts with some guys going shark fishing. These idiots are really prepared as they look more like a bunch of beer-drinking rednecks who would normally just be fishing off a dock. I wonder if one of them just dared the others and then it went too far. “Hey, I dare you to go shark fishin’!” “What’ll you give me if I win?” “I got the last season of Duck Dynasty on DVD!” “YOU’RE ON!!!”

Well the top guy is sort of redneckish; these guys look more like your dad's yacht club took a wrong turn on the set of a Jaws movie.

Oh well; it then gets stopped by Captain Buzzkill, a.k.a. The Main Character, a.k.a. Chase, some kind of poacher-police who goes around stopping people from killing sharks, I guess. He’s so good at his job, he almost pops a vein in his neck every time he screams at these poor dumb fucks for shark hunting. He also loves to live dangerously by getting waaaaay too up close and personal with sharks:

After he frees the shark, the rednecks get angry at him, shouting and cajoling him as he drives off, saying he’ll NEVER be welcome on the island now! The shark hunters' union is a very prestigious group, apparently.

Chase is excited because his kid and ex-wife are coming to visit. Yeah, “excited,” which is why I guess he was tangoing with Death by getting up close to that shark - maybe he doesn’t want to see them that badly after all. I don’t really get why they even came, as the ex-wife, Amanda, does nothing but bitch and moan at Chase and the kid, Max, is constantly told not to do anything as to not get himself in trouble.

"Now, Max, you know you'll have to spend the entire time in a bubble to avoid causing a national catastrophe. You do remember the time we went to Cuba and you made Fidel Castro angry after tripping over a rock on the ground and somehow causing a revolution in the streets."
"Aw, dad!"

Yes, they brought this kid on an eight-hour plane flight to a strange island to see his father, just so they could tell him not to do anything. Do they just want him to sit in the hotel room like a boring lump?

I guess he’s pretty sheltered. I mean, THIS is his reaction to seeing black people:

That look on his face just kills me. "What are these exotic specimens?!"

We also get a scene where some crazy guy, who the locals call Werewolf, runs by screaming gibberish. It really doesn’t have much to do with anything. He’ll be important later on, but at this stage, it’s kind of a non-sequitur really - I mean there’s nothing it really contributes to the story to have him just running around screaming randomly.

Meanwhile, Chase and Amanda go out to research the supposed great white shark that locals think killed a man. Chase, insisting its innocence, is out to prove them wrong. But what REALLY happens is, we get a shitload of bickering dialogue between Chase and Amanda, proving what kind of a film this really is - you know, a shitty late-90s thriller with arguing white people finding something wacky in an exotic locale and the movie trying to pass off THAT as exciting thrills.

We then get a bit of backstory as to why Chase is so hellbent on saving sharks and stuff. Apparently his friend died from cancer and he thinks somehow sharks have the secret to curing it. The movie shows us this by having Amanda look at pictures and talk to Chase’s partner, Tall Man, about it.

For convenience purposes, we see she has a picture of Chase’s friend with cancer right after the one of Chase’s friend happy and playing just to be extra dramatic:

You know, even if the stupid shark could cure cancer, would you really want these characters discovering it in the first place? I mean they’re just so asinine. I don't want these assholes having any notoriety in the field of cancer research; they don't deserve the fame!

We then see the greatest part of this island is where the teenagers hang out, at some abandoned cliff near a beach and stuff, where they can jump in. For extra excitement, this is a shark-infested area where sharks can just come up and take a chunk out of your fucking leg at any random time.

Get your red food coloring out of my swimming area.

You know...because that wouldn’t be noticeable at all and it’s understandable how the rest of the island would have just ignored that little detail.

So you’re the kind of father who lets your son come visit you and then completely ignores him in favor of work despite the long plane ride he took to get there. Your son has just witnessed a horrific shark attack, which is the reason you were focusing so much on work to begin with. You were already telling him not to get in danger before this, but now as he’s clearly scared shitless and there’s a clear and present danger, what do you do?

a) Send him home.

b) Have him stay at your place with the door locked and out of harm’s way.

c) Let him come along on a dangerous shark hunting boat trip with you.

If you chose “c,” congratulations! You’re a piece of shit parent. And also in the movie Creature.’s clearly the worst idea available, and even the wife goes along with it, so I guess sanity was just at a low that night. They sail around until they see a shark eating another shark on their little Nintendo video-game screen shark detector:

Going under the ocean, they come across the only reason for this movie’s existence, Land Shark:

Tune in next week when they make a turtle-man hybrid to try and cure Ebola!

Yes, apparently this is the product of the scientists’ attempt years and years ago to cure cancer. By breeding a man with a shark. I was initially going to say this made no sense, but upon hours and hours of sleepless thinking about it, going over it in my head and analyzing it, I can totally see how this would potentially cure cancer.

I just love every scene in this movie that has the Land Shark in it. There’s one bit where he’s swimming up to the surface that makes him look like a fucking Marvel Comics supervillain or something - it’s just so hilarious and so corny that I can’t help it. Too bad we won’t be seeing him very much at all in this...

They escape but only after Amanda gets stabbed in the shoulder. As they’re back up above the water, we clearly see the competence that Chase and Amanda instilled in their son as he trips and falls into the water, right as the Land Shark is coming up for air!

"Remember me as a complete incompetent idiot!"

Unfortunately, they manage to save the little booger. I really don’t know who to be mad at here; the son for being an absolute moron, or the parents for thinking it was a good idea to bring this kid on a boat to go shark hunting when he can’t even stand on his own two feet without tripping over the air. I’ll just be mad at all of them!

There are also a couple of scenes with Tall Man and his wife, which can basically be summed up thusly: the wife asks him why he’s so loyal to Chase, to which Tall Man has no reply, and instead just makes up some mumbo jumbo about loyalty. Then they make love. I guess talking about loyalty really gets them in the mood.

"Why are we making out now when we were clearly having a serious discussion just a second ago?"
"Ssshhhh, honey, the director needs more make out shots for the brain-dead audience! You know how small their attention spans are!"

These scenes are just indicative of the larger problem with movies like this - you have this cool, interesting indigenous culture to this unnamed island, all these cool settings and characters and cultural talking points that COULD make for a really, really interesting film if developed more. But no, we get boring white people arguing about familial problems while everything unique or interesting about the area they’re showing us is pushed waaaaay in the background. American centralism at its best, folks. Because we are always the focus of anything going on!

I will give the movie this, though - it does know how to film a nice sunset.

Clearly this scene was referencing The Godfather Part 2, so I automatically love it now.

And by that I guess I’m just giving the movie credit for a naturally occurring phenomenon that happens every day. Like yeah, really, you can point your camera at something that happens all the time. Hooray! On second thought I’m not that impressed by this.

I guess the Navy shows up, because hey, why stop at the other 9,978 cliches in the world? Why not throw in “evil bad mean old military guys shutting the main characters down” into the mix? Their thing in this movie is that they don’t want to tell anyone that there’s a mutant shark and instead just say it’s a regular shark that they’re taking care of.

He's so navy, he's ALWAYS in the water. Super navy!

Because just a regular fucking shark won’t incite ANY PANIC...well, I guess it really won’t, as this island apparently lets teenagers hang out at a place where sharks can kill them at any moment, as we saw earlier. They’ve sealed their own fates! Fuck ‘em.

"I was going to tell you to leave as this is clearly a dangerous time to be here, but instead I think I'm OK if you come along and join the shark hunt. After all, those two are basically the same things, right?"
Parent of the year!

There’s also this other plot point about this fish hunter guy who caught a shark and is saying it’s the one that was killing people - even though Chase and the other main characters have now seen the real monster. Chase tries to get the police to dissect the shark and prove it wasn’t killing people, but Mr. Fish Hunter Guy says no, it’s his property and he wants to hang it up as a trophy!

...okay, movie; seriously - for one, why would the police just let that fly? In a MURDER INVESTIGATION, you’d think the lives and safety of others would take precedence, not just some asshole’s ego trip. And two, what kind of a douche-face would you have to be to just hand-wave away innocent lives eaten by a shark, just so you could have a precious trophy on your fucking wall? What a despicable person.

As they’re preparing to go after the thing again, Amanda remarks that it’s going to be an adventure like the old days. Which wouldn’t normally be a line worth talking about, except that just a little while ago, the same character was just crying her eyes out, clearly traumatized from seeing the Land Shark. So really I guess she’s just bipolar or something. Or the writers just forgot the character and who she was and stuff - which wouldn’t surprise me...

So we get some scenes with the Navy morons hunting Land Shark, where we learn they didn’t even bother checking all those years ago whether or not the Land Shark was actually killed. They truly are the greatest Navy guys in the world...nothing gets past them.

We get a bunch of annoyingly long scenes of the Navy guys exploring various places, which serve to do nothing except drag the movie out longer. I seriously just don’t know how to express how utterly boring these scenes are - this movie is three fucking hours long; do we really NEED these scenes?

"Let's play soldier! Just walk around holding a gun dramatically for several scenes with dim, scary lighting! That makes a good movie."

I guess we do find out that the Land Shark is able to mate with other sharks to create more Land Sharks. Which for some reason is the thing that really gets the Navy morons on board with killing it - yeah, before, we just knew it was killing people, but now that we know its plans to get laid, NOW we can really go for it! So basically these guys are just a bunch of cock-blockers.

Meanwhile Max and his new spontaneous one-day girlfriend are on the case looking for a missing friend of theirs. They come across a scene from Angel Heart…

Ah yes, the old 'spinning around in circles' voodoo ritual, intended to...make the person very dizzy I guess...

...and then share a forbidden kiss in this one area of the forest where apparently kids go to do that a lot:

The love that started a war...or not as it's never really brought up again and this is one of the last scenes where they actually speak together. So it's like Romeo & Juliet: The Diet Version, with all of the lurid implications of forbidden love but none of the drama. Add in a land shark and you got yourself a winning formula!

This movie needed a Romeo and Juliet subplot as much as I need a hernia. And really, movie? They had to share a kiss NOW? There weren't any other times in the movie, where they weren't looking for a missing friend, that they could have done that? You cheap pile of crap.

Ugh, whatever; so the Land Shark attacks them, but they unfortunately get away without a scratch on them. Dammit, Land Shark, get your head in the game! You’re verging on disappointment if you don’t get some kills in soon!

Why would he be hanging upside down in a fucking tree? Vampire land shark! Now the movie is complete...and in fact, not only the movie, but life in general.

He does kill a few idiots later on at this swampy area, but he doesn’t get Mr. Navy Man or Chase, so it’s still not exactly something to party about...the characters go back on their boat and plan to go confront the thing in its own caves. I shit you not: they actually bring Max back with them, too, to go down and fight Land Shark and everything.

"I guess I just don't care about your well being, son. Besides, this will save us money on college funds."

Are you fucking kidding me? Weren’t you idiots just telling him to get on a plane and go a while back? No matter how you shake this - whether they’re trying to get him away or they want him to come with them - it’s retarded. But at least choose which brand of idiocy we’re dealing with here! God! You’re gonna drive me out of my skull at this rate!

Before they go in, they end up running into Giancarlo Esposito again, who I’m sure has a character name, but fuck it, you’d just make Breaking Bad jokes anyway, so we’re just calling him his real name in this. Through some irritatingly spazzy flashback scenes, we realize that DUN DUN DUN he’s been the crazy “Werewolf” guy all along!

It's been 25 years, man. I think you can get the fuck over it by now.

Hey, what’s that sound? I think it’s the shock and awe of everyone who cared...

Down in the caves, they wander around a lot and talk about how Chase and Amanda still like each other even though they act like they don’t. No, really; Tall Man actually takes Max aside and they have a good conversation about this while they’re supposed to be looking for the fucking Land Shark.


Guys, I dunno what brain malfunction or drug-addled madness was going on in the studio when this piece of dog shit was made, but do I really have to say this? Okay then: WE DON’T NEED TRITE FAMILY DRAMA IN A MOVIE ABOUT A HALF MAN/HALF SHARK! That’s inherently interesting shit to see! Why the need to shoehorn in awkward, limp-ass attempts at drama into a monster movie? Who the fuck is sitting out there going “gee, this monster movie is really lame, but you know what would make it interesting? A bunch of boring white suburbanites arguing about their relationship problems!”?

"Wearing these glasses sure makes me look smart and like I'm doing something!"

There are a lot more scenes of boredom, mostly of Giancarlo Esposito and the shark making doe-eyes at one another:

Stare into its soul, you'll find the meaning of life and all creation there. Witness the folly of man and all his scientific abominations! How dare man try to cure cancer? MANKIND IS EVIL! Or I think that's what the movie is trying to convey.

I guess it’s supposed to be that Esposito couldn’t kill the shark because, SHOCKING TWIST, the shark was actually made from HIS DNA! Wow...oh wait, the three hour runtime of the movie has turned my whole being into formless goop and I can no longer form opinions.

So Esposito’s life is apparently so sad that he had no other meaningful connections in his life except to this abomination man/shark hybrid. He decides to sacrifice himself by cornering himself with the creature and allowing it to kill him. This then gives the heroes the opportunity to blow the shark up. Given that Esposito was apparently so into having sympathy for this thing, just blowing it up seems a bit like taking a giant runny dump on Esposito’s grave.

Not to mention the whole “cure for cancer” thing is kind of forgotten about, and if that shark thing was supposed to be some kind of aid in that quest, well, it seems like you just shot yourselves in the foot. Hope you can sleep well with your dead friend’s ghost looking over your shoulder, Chase!

But whatever. EXPLOSIONS!

Esposito didn't even have to die. There were plenty of other ways to keep the shark in there...just duck under him and lock him in? But nah. I guess self sacrifice even if it's for no reason is just cool.

Then they all walk into the sunrise as apparently this was supposed to be a “happy” ending…well, I disagree with your presumptions, movie!

This was just god-awful. Everything about it was bad, and the stupefying three-hour length made it actually painful to sit through as it went on. The characters, the acting, the story...nothing was done well at all. The plot is full of holes, the characters are unlikable all the way through, and the movie couldn’t even sustain a plot about a fucking man/shark hybrid without divulging into complete nonsense. I get it, they’re trying to bring back the 50s-era monster movies. Fine. But why did you have to make a three-hour pretentious pile of pulsating fecal matter with annoying characters and plot holes big enough to make a new Super Walmart in to do that?

You had a simple goal, point A to point B - a goofy horror movie about a government experiment making a half man/half shark killer. But you fucked it up! It’s like saying, hey, drive to my house and get my mail. Then the person does it but instead of doing just THAT, ends up blowing up your house in the process - taking a simple thing and utterly, horrendously botching it up beyond repair.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, this movie sucks.

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