Jaws 4: The Revenge

The asymmetrical bob: this time it's personal
Released:
1987

Director: Joseph Sargent

Starring: Lorraine Gary, Lance Guest, Michael Caine, Mario Van Peebles, Karen Young

The Setup:

Shark targets Ellen Brody and her family for revenge. Who’s Ellen Brody, you ask?

Discussion:

So after recently re-watching Jaws 2 I realized that if I’m ever going to gain peaceful rest, I’m going to have to confront my demons. In the form of Jaws: The Revenge.

The DVD opens with the proud and majestic Universal logo and you wonder: are they REALLY proud? Shouldn’t they have an understated logo that conveys shame? Then we discover that not only was Michael Caine in this movie [there’s a famous story about him being unable to accept his Oscar for Hannah and her Sisters because he was away shooting this, but also Lynn Whitfield and Mario Van Peebles. Actually, Melvin Van Peebles appears in it too, but I didn’t catch him. This is during one of the stupidest credit sequences ever where we have shark-POV shots as it surfaces and dives and surfaces and dives. It’s Christmas time in Amity, and Ellen Brody, wife of Roy Scheider from the first film, is visiting with her son Michael, and her younger son Sean has followed in daddy’s footsteps and become a cop. If you’ll look at the picture below, you’ll see how this film contains some subtle call-outs to the original movie.

So Sean is called out to remove a log that has gotten stuck out on some dingy or some such. As he’s reaching out to remove the log, the shark removes his arm, and then follows a hilariously protracted death scene as he screams and throws himself around for like ten minutes before the shark finally finishes him off. Then there’s an ominous shot of the log that got entangled, making us wonder: did the shark PUT it there to lure poor Sean? I think we’re supposed to think it did. Oh by the way, Sean’s death is intercut with footage of children singing Christmas carols, meant to achieve some sort of frisson between the angelic [retch!] choir and the violent dismemberment taking place just offshore. It serves as an example of how not to do such things.

Oh wait, THEN Michael shows up, to attend the funeral. He brings with him his wife, played by Karen Young, who went on to greater things with her wonderful performance in Heading South, and their little girl Thea, one of those annoyingly “adorable” kids. When some friend of the family says greets the girl with “Oh! You’re so grown up!” the girl replies: “Uncle Sean is dead, you know.”

Lorraine is doing her best to act from behind her asymmetrical bob—her previous career included 1941 and Car Wash and this was her last film—and she tells Michael to give up his “awful” job [as some marine biologist in the Bahamas] and never go in the water again. We find out that in her mind, the shark killed her husband Chief Brody by giving him a heart attack: “He died from fear!” I was really hoping this movie would go forward with a subtext that Ellen is insane and she’s imagining that this shark is after her and her family, but no, the shark is really after her and her family.

Michael convinces her to join him in the Bahamas, because the water is too warm for great white sharks. Ellen goes, having a minor breakdown on the ferry, and meeting Michael Caine as Hoagie [he’s named after a submarine sandwich?]. The Shark, somehow [perhaps she has a mole in the Amity police department?] has been appraised of her travel plans, and travels to the Caribbean to exact her revenge. We are never told that this shark is the “wife” of the original shark [so then who was the shark in Jaws 2? The son? This is getting to be like The Godfather], but that’s the implication. This time, it’s woman to woman.

The costume department is trying to make Ellen as glamorous as possible, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that something’s amiss with a film centered around a geriatric grandmother who’s going to fight a great white shark. Sorry, I don’t mean to be ageist, but when you look at her on the screen, there’s such a feeling of discordance it’s hard to shake. Ellen, it would seem, also shares somewhat of a psychic bond with the shark [with vibes transmissible through water] because she just goes in to her ankles when she suddenly senses that something is OUT THERE.

Meanwhile Michael, played by Lance Guest of The Last Starfighter and Halloween II, who looks NOTHING like the Michael of the earlier films, is doing his marine biologist thing with Mario Van Peebles as Jake, trying on a horribly embarrassing Caribbean accent. Jake is tooling along under the ocean [what they’re actually supposed to be doing is anyone’s guess] when the shark comes by and gives him the old stink-eye. But he’s not Michael, and the shark is on a blood vendetta, so she lets him go. I’m sorry… it’s hard for me not to imagine the shark in her underground lair hacking into the national aviation database to access Ellen Brody’s travel plans. HOW does the shark know she’s coming to the Bahamas? I guess that’s the psychic bond they share. Anyway, so then Jake wants to study the shark but Michael doesn’t, and he wants to keep the shark sighting on the DL from his mom. All of this is conducted in some of the worst, most painful dialogue ever—noticeable from the start, but I wanted to break it to you gently. You know how this site is ostensibly about “bad movies” and yet there’s this whole sheen of “what really IS a bad movie?” Well, THIS MOVIE is a BAD MOVIE. It’s like that feeling when someone tells you a really idiotic joke and you just sit glaring at them in stony silence. Not so bad it’s good [though it has glimmers], just so bad it’s… well it’s really quite painful.

Anyway, Jake wants to write a report that “will make them rich” on how there’s a great white in the Bahamas, where it’s too warm for great white’s to be. Okay, first of all, what’s it gonna say? A great white came to the Bahamas, where it’s too warm for it to be. End report. Or are they going to go into how this is a psychic widow shark with a bond to the widow of the guy who killed her husband—even though sharks to not in any way “mate?” And how many scientists really “get rich” with reports on marine biology? No need to answer, these are rhetorical questions.

So anyway, Jake chums the water to attract the attach some sort of transmitter to it. But look, that drifting log is heading straight for us—or wait, it’s a giant fake shark! The shark is barely articulated so it really just floats through the water. They attach the transmitter, blah, blah. Meanwhile Hoagie is hitting on Ellen as they sip cocktails and she is acting psychotically counter-depressive, then later she’s giggling like a schoolgirl at the thought of discovering love again despite her advanced age and the fact that she looks like a drag queen stumbling from the scene of a car accident. At one point they slow dance to the tune of The Jets’ “You Got It All.” There are numerous time-killer scenes of all these useless interpersonal matters, including a barfworthy reprise of the father-son bonding scene [where the son imitates his dad, don’t worry, the original scene has already been played in “flashback”], this time with Michael’s daughter.

Then off to the beach where Michael’s wife is having one of her hideous sculptures installed with a ceremony, while Michael [supportive husband that he is] skips the ceremony to find that shark, and darling little Thea is apparently unattended as she’s being pulled on a banana tube with, as far as we know, total strangers. The shark, who apparently has detected the genetic connection Thea shares with Ellen, targets her and lifts herself up out of the water by the banana float. She misses Thea, but the woman behind her helpfully climbs into the shark’s mouth [so not kidding] and lets it carry her away. An inadvertently effective shot slips through as we are racing away from the attack as we watch the shark munch the woman in the distance. Thea is fine—I would think for sure she should have been rendered catatonic for the rest of her life, but kids, you know, they’re so resilient—but this calls for mucho recriminations from the wife to Michael of the “You knew! You knew and you didn’t say anything!” variety.

SPOILERS ? > > >
Anyway, by that time Ellen AIN’T HAVIN’ IT. She takes the big sailboat out to confront the shark with only her wits and her shoulderpads. “Come get me you son of a bitch,” she says, call-out 4,786 to the original film. These are usually a mistake, as it lends this movie the impression of pleading “You remember that movie you really liked ten years ago? Well, this one has the same word in the title!” I was sure there was going to be a moment where Ellen shrieks toward the water “Come get me! It’s ME you want!” but sadly that did not come to pass. Anyway, Michael finally notices that Mom’s gone and he enlists Jake and they enlist Hoagie and take the plane out to look for her. This leads us to a shot in which we have Ellen, the shark, and a close pass by the plane all in the same frame. They crash the plane on the surface of the water [inadvertently somewhat cool], and swim on over to the big ship.

Now, one of the things I have held off on mentioning up until now is that with each successive Jaws movie, the shark comes more and more out of the water. As my boyfriend said: “So Jaws 5 would be Land Shark” [and I did just hear that they ARE making Jaws 5 for straight-to-video]. The nadir occurs in this film, where the shark sticks herself out of the water past the midpoint of her body, and is able to just stay there and munch. This is showcased in the following scene, in which Jake goes out onto the bowsprit [that big mast sticking straight out the front of a sailing ship] and the shark comes up out of the water [that is, 8-16 feet out of the water] and munches him. If you look closely as the shark dives, you will notice that it is actually hovering just above the water. We also get a relatively cool shot of the shark swimming away with Jake in his jaws, spewing massive amounts of blood. Then Michael gets up during one of the shark’s many leaps from the water and places something [that turns out to be highly explosive] in the shark’s mouth. Then he can flash this thing that causes the shark to leap from the water and ROAR like a lion or some shit. And finally the climax, in which Ellen pilots the boat into the shark, leaping once more from the water, pierces it with the broken-off bowsprit, apparently striking the highly-explosive device, and the thing explodes. Only you can’t really tell WHAT is happening, because it is all edited in an absolutely incomprehensible manner, including several confusing and utterly useless flashbacks to the climax of the first film. Then it turns out that Jake is still alive! A little massive blood loss—no problem!

Word on the Wiki is that the ending was changed several times. Originally Ellen speared the shark with the ship and it struggled, causing the boat to sink, Then when they went back to re-shoot, they only had $75 left, so they had to use a toy shark and boat and tried to cover it all up with the flashbacks to the first film. Jake also lived because test audiences didn’t like someone seeing a major sympathetic character die. There was also apparently, in earlier versions, some voodoo curse that set the shark against the Brody family, which would help explain the psychic vibe between Ellen and the shark, and the whole revenge thing. I didn’t recall that Michael was also supposed to be in Jaws 3-D, but the movie doesn’t allude to that at all.
< < < SPOILERS END

It is truly awful. For me, it’s not even that fun. There aren’t that many shark attacks, and the ones that are here are dumb—a lot of red blurry flashes, very little actual, visible action. Which leaves the movie to fill all this in with tedious domestic drama and Jake and his horrible Caribbean accent. And the whole ludicrous idea of revenge… and the desperate attempt to tie all this around Ellen Brody, who no one wants to see… there’s just too much. You might watch this because it’s bad, but there are so many other bad movies out there that are a lot more fun… it makes me sad to think that someone seeking a bad movie might watch this instead of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or something. If you want to watch this, you might just hit yourself several times in the head with a piece of wood to get the same effect and save yourself the rental.

Should you watch it?

If you must, but it really is quite, quite terrible, and not all that fun.

RELATED MOVIES:
JAWS is the first and is total genius. If you haven’t watched it in a while, it’s even better-made than you recall.
JAWS 2 is still set in the same world as the first and could be worse.
JAWS 3-D is set at some Sea World-type place and is terrible, although not wholly inept, like this movie. Although it’s no longer in 3-D, which totally sucks ass.

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