[17 May 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Fans know you can’t create it on purpose. Aficionados recognize its rarity and embrace such scattershot infrequency. While they occasionally try, producers, writers, and directors almost never get it right, and the pathway of such good cinematic intentions is strewn with misguided attempts with names like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavara and Snakes on a Plane. Of course, we are talking about schlock here, the brazen b-movie madness that arrives when a ridiculous idea is meshed with an unworkable approach to create a kind of perfect storm of celluloid patheticness. The result can almost always be counted on for a laugh or two, the entire experience chalked up to yet another case of ambition thwarted by ability. But then there are the rare exceptions where intention meets incompetence, the endgame being so insanely sublime and deliciously dumb that it’s almost impossible to drink in all at once. Lovers of such lunacy, prepare yourselves for the god-awful greatness of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. It’s everything you think it is, and much, much less.
Hoping to visit some whale pods while listening to Mozart, noted oceanographer Emma NcNeil “borrows” an expensive underwater submersible and does a bit of exploring. She unwillingly discovers something frozen beneath the Alaska ice. Before it can register, a military training exercise unleashes the prehistoric beasts. Soon thereafter, a plane is downed by a massive shark. Elsewhere, an oil platform is destroyed by a giant octopus. In an attempt to understand what she saw, Emma looks up her old professor and mentor Lamar Sanders. They then hook up with Japanese scientist Dr. Seiji Shimada who is also investigating the situation. As death and mayhem rule the sea, the American Government, under the auspices of hard-assed officer Allan Baxter, demands that our trio take on the monstrous duo. When their first plan fails, they decide to let the creatures do what they do best - destroy each other. All they have to do is lure them away from civilization and let nature take its “Thrilla in Manilla” course. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
With its amazingly sloppy CGI, uproariously illogical plot points (a shark vs. a 747?) and ludicrously lame acting, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus becomes the kind of instant camp classic we just don’t get from the standard cinematic stool sample. It’s bad, but in the wink at the audience way that understands it could never be taken serious. Jack Perez, writing and directing under the pseudonym of Ace Hannah, loads the screen with so much overinflated dialogue and inert action scenes that you’re literally giddy anticipating where he’ll take this mess next. And with heartfelt attempted turns from former teen queen Debbie Gibson, rough and tumble renegade Lorenzo Lamas, and TV vet Vic Chao, there is nothing to stop this sensational stupidity from being anything other than groovy. Toss in some quasi-believable beast-fu and the fun just comes in wave after wave of whacked out wonderment.
The best material here is Chao’s unusually intense dialogue and inspired line readings. This is an actor who wants to believe every BS proposition he’s putting out there while laying on the lothario with Asian ease. When he and Gibson hook up for a late night in the lab shag (complete with conversational foreplay and post-coital communication), you’d think you were watching some manner of retarded romantic comedy. Later, when things look grim for mankind in general, Chao goes off on one of those chuffed cheerleading rants that fails to inspire bravery but goes a long way toward tweaking your already sore funny bone. Lamas is equally adept at taking his racially intolerant military man and turning him into the most loveable human hate crime ever. Hair slicked back and jaw-line set to ‘stun’, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the man refer to minorities in ways that would make the KKK blush.
But it’s Gibson that holds the whole thing together, her wide eyed wonder matched with a former pop star’s presence to draw us into and through this numskullduggery. We want her to succeed, even as she’s marveling at faked greenscreen imagery. We need her optimism and poise, since the men around her are too busy tossing around testosterone to care about compassion or careful planning. She even manages to use her growing passion for Dr. Shimada as a way of attracting the sea creatures to their intended demise. Looking a little rough around and edges and flashing a smile that must have cost a small royalties-related fortune, Gibson shakes our love from the first time she is on the screen. She brings a nice balance to Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus - if that’s even possible.
After all, who cares about people when you’ve got a massive mockery of nature’s savagery swatting down fighter jets, destroying entire submarine wolf packs, or masticating large chunks of the Golden Gate Bridge in its motherboard manipulated jaw. The F/X work here makes Sci-Fi’s vomit-inducing vector graphics look ultra-realistic in comparison. There are wonderful shots of our eight-legged demon giving the greater white wannabe a big underwater snuggly-huggly, and tentacles are readily removed whenever our elephantine evildoers duke it out. Of course, every suction cup is right back where the CG artists put it in the next shot. Perez/Hannah is not the normal kind of hack. Instead, he desperately tries to imbue his single set Ed Wood-isms with a real tension and energy. He’s not a point and shoot putz. Indeed, without his attempted invention behind the lens. Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus would be even more miserable.
Naturally, there will be some who see the title, make up the movie in their own pointed little head, and then feel terribly disappointed when it doesn’t play out exactly like the version in their cranial Cineplex, and no matter the gradient of goofiness proffered, some film fans are too snobby to appreciate good gunk. Again, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is exactly as bad as you think it is, and then manages a way to turn that artistic frown upside down, sideways, and directly out your butt. By the hour mark you’ll be cheering for the angry aqua terrors. At 90 minutes, you’ll be counting the days until the rest of the inevitable franchise hits the direct to DVD market. Schlock may be an acquired taste, like caviar, foie gras, and Arby’s, but it’s hard to see how anyone wouldn’t enjoy this extremely tacky dish. It’s the kind of camp cuisine we gluttonous film fans love to get fat on.