Saturday, February 5, 2011

In short: The Last Shark (1981)

aka Great White

aka The Last Jaws

Original title: L'ultimo squalo

Just a few days before a surfing regatta is supposed to be held there, the little US coastal town of Port Harbor is struck by a series of shark attacks. The local experts in such things - author and hobby sharkotologist Peter BenchleyBenton (James Franciscus) and "Scottish" sea bear Ron Hamer (Vic "Yup, it says here I'm from Scotland. This is how Scottish people talk, right?" Morrow) - deem the perpetrator to be an exceptionally large Great White. Their recommendation is to postpone the regatta until the shark problem has been solved. Unfortunately, the town's mayor William Wells (Joshua Sinclair) is trying to get himself elected state governor, and as we all know, that's not a position you can achieve when you are known as level-headed and putting the greater good before your private interests in an emergency, so Wells decides to go through with regatta anyway.

We're not in Amity here (no, honestly, please don't sue us!), though, and while Wells does his best to keep the shark killings out of the news, he still does try to protect the competitors in the regatta by surrounding the area of the competition with a net no normal shark could bite through. Additionally, Wells assigns Benton, Hamer and a bunch of fishermen (surely all experts in animals they don't usually meet) as his anti-shark crack troop.

Not surprisingly, none of Wells' ideas protects anyone, and Port Harbor's beach and the surrounding seas stay an all-you-can-eat buffet. That is, until Sharkie makes the capital mistake of nibbling off the leg of Benton's daughter.

In 1981, much beloved Italian action specialist Enzo G. Castellari must have been in desperate need of some fast money. At least, that's the only explanation I have for the director signing on for a project like this late-coming rip-off of Jaws at a point in his career when he otherwise seemed unable to make a bad film. But bad The Last Shark is, there's no doubt about it. Seldom has Castellari shown himself as indifferent towards making a watchable movie as here. The pacing is sloppy and slow, half of the film's scene are copied as closely from Spielberg's film or from its lamentable sequel as possible without getting sued (which didn't help Last Shark - there was a lawsuit by Universal, and the Italian film's producers lost it), and the other half just doesn't seem to have much of a reason to exist.

Castellari tries to pep things up a bit by adding utterly random slow motion shots and a bit of dynamic editing, but for about the first hour of the film's running time, nothing to get excited about happens. It sure doesn't help the film's excitement level during that phase that the shark is either represented by an adorably bad model or through library footage that doesn't fit what is supposed to be happening on screen at all, and very often doesn't even show a Great White (see the word "white" here, Enzo?).

Fortunately for people who have already wasted an hour of their lives at this point, the film gets sillier going into its final act, and begins to show scenes poor Spielberg would not have dreamt of. The shark munches on a helicopter, the shark kidnaps a bunch of people, the shark gets blown up by an inadvertently mined corpse and happiness returns to my living room. It's not enough to rescue the film, or even in the slightest what one would hope for from Castellari, yet it stills shows the film and its director willing to entertain the audience instead of inflicting pain to it.

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