Her name may be prefaced with the phrase "Academy Award® Winner" every time it's mentioned in a trailer, but Halle Berry's resume is loaded with crap and she appears to have cannily used her Oscar as a means to "ching ching cash in" ever since it was handed to her back in 2002. Sure, she's earned one of Hollywood's most sought after trophies, but she's also starred in what is arguably the most poorly received superhero movie of all time and was a Bond girl in one of the stupidest Bond movies ever made, as well as doing Gothika. Remember that one? I'm trying not to. Admittedly she's also done some decent stuff since her Oscar's triumph (like one or two of the X-Men sequels and Brad Anderson's The Call) but the shark drama Dark Tide is not one one of her "decent" efforts, by any definition.
|Director: John Stockwell
Stars: Halle Berry, Olivier Martinez, Ralph Brown, Mark Elderkin, Luke Tyler
Writers: Ronnie Christensen, Amy Sorlie
In Dark Tide Berry stars as Kate Mathieson, a marine biologist and "Shark Whisperer" who is able to frolic among the sharks without a diving cage because she believes she can "think like a shark" and judge which ones are friendly and which are bitey. Naturally this sort of arrogance is bound to get someone hurt, and while showboating for an underwater documentary one of her crew is fatally chomped by a Great White.
Twelve months later we find Katie sullen and withdrawn, and running a lame marine tour company on the South African coast that is in danger of going broke because everyone wants to see sharks but her tour boat only visits less ravenous attractions like seals and penguins. Just as things are looking grim(mer) Katie's estranged husband Jeff (Olivier Martinez) re-enters the frame with a potential lifeline: a boorish, cocksure British millionaire (Ralph Brown) who is willing to pay big bucks for he and his son to get up close and personal with a Great White, sans diving cage. The once fearless Shark Whisperer is initially reluctant to lead this risky jaunt because she hasn't been underwater since the chomping incident a year prior, but the cashed-up Brit offers a payday too good to refuse and so everyone gathers their equipment and heads out to sea. Inevitably, unpleasantness of the pointy-finned variety follows when inclement weather strands the boat in shark infested waters.
I don't consider it a spoiler to reveal that the group becomes stranded in dangerous territory because Dark Tide is a shark movie, so you known the characters are going to wind up in peril at some point, however it is worth noting that the shark related unpleasantness does not occur until very late in the proceedings.
Before then it's an excessively talky picture, beginning and ending with two shark attacks that serve to bookend numerous character conflicts. When Berry and Martinez aren't having a go at each other they're bickering with the arsehole millionaire, and when he's not bickering with either of them the arsehole millionaire is belittling his own son because he believes the young man isn't anywhere near as masculine as himself. The in-fighting is punctuated with a string of underwater diving sequences, where Berry and co. cavort with jovial sea creatures that are not especially interested in biting anyone. Whatever discernable story structure there is may have been ripped from a "Screenwriting for Dummies" handbook, with Berry's character journey following a well trodden path: opening act tragedy, followed by a period of self doubt before eventually facing her fears and rediscovering her mojo, all while rekindling the flames of passion with a lost love. As a shark movie Dark Tide has neither the popcorn appeal of brainless flicks like Deep Blue Sea and Bait 3D or the genuine chills of more sophisticated efforts like Open Water and Jaws. With all the serene underwater photography and placid sea creatures on display you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a documentary during its slowest moments.
Actor turned Director John Stockwell is making a career out of slick but effectively dull thrillers set in exotic locales (Into the Blue, Turistas, In the Blood) and here, working with a budget that was incredibly generous by shark movie standards (twenty five million according to the IMDB), he splashes a lot of colourful South African scenery across the screen without giving his film any tangible substance. As an actor Stockwell has worked with some great directors, playing the jock hero in John Carpenter's Christine and the pilot who loses his shit in the opening scenes of Tony Scott's Top Gun, but despite having basked in the presence of a genuine horror master he isn't able to bring an ounce of atmosphere or suspense to Dark Tide's scant horror sequences, and the film doesn't feature anywhere near as much fast-paced action or exposed skin (female or male) as Top Gun.
Berry does at least put in an agreeable performance as the marquee player, and she and Martinez have a believable on-screen chemistry, whether they're cozying up together or stinging each other with verbal jabs. The pair were an item when Dark Tide was made but have since broken up, so I guess they know how to do both. It's Ralph Brown who looks to be having the most fun however as the overly macho British arsehole who desperately wants to dive with a shark because he loves using his personal fortune to tick-off a list of manly endeavours that most of us common folk will never experience, presumably in the belief that each activity will add another inch to his penis. At one point his own son describes him as a "10 out of 10 prick", and that sentiment is validated later on when the rich arsehole exclaims "I've got seven kids from three different women, and only one of them's half a poof" after the young man understandably shows some reluctance to jump into the water with man eating sharks.
Dark Tide is, for most of its running time, marked by no noteworthy or significant events, but some picturesque photography (both above and below the water) does afford it some forgiveness. With most of the movie looking like it was legitimately filmed at sea rather than on a soundstage there's a whiff of high seas adventure in the air at times (even if the characters just yell at each other or brood) and it also deserves praise for its use of real aquatic creatures instead of SyFy channel quality CGI. Whether the characters are larking about with seals or hitching a ride on a shark's fin, it all looks like the real deal, and on the occasions where CGI is used the effects are passable and never too obvious. For its first ten minutes Dark Tide does at least serve up what the cover art promises - that being unsociable sharks, and Halle Berry in a bikini - but over an hour later I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd fallen for the old "bait and switch" technique, as much of what follows that opening sequence does not feature shark attacks, or its star in revealing outfits, at all. After what seems like an eternity of chatter the final shark showdown set around an overturned boat is moderately well staged – it's eerily dark so the characters can't see what's in the water beneath them, and there's a refreshing absence of CGI – but this all too brief finale can't do enough to make-up for the sluggishly paced narrative that preceded it. Further insult is added to injury by the PG-13 shark attacks, that do stain the water with a bit of red stuff but are stingy with the gore.
Had it jettisoned about 20 minutes of talk in-between the two shark attack sequences Dark Tide might have earned additional approval, but at close to two hours this relationship drama masquerading as a shark movie tested my endurance. There's only so much waffle I'm prepared to sit through to witness a shark attack. What could have been an economical - if not overly eventful - shark movie instead became an overlong soap opera, with barely a whiff of shark.