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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Shark': Jaws will drop in disbelief

May 24, 2008|Mary McNamara | Times Television Critic

Every once in a while, a bit of television comes along that is just so terrible it must be viewed by large numbers of people, preferably those over the drinking age. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Shark Swarm," a two-part, three-hour Hallmark Channel Original Movie Event that really must be seen to be believed. Blood-sucking real estate developers, heroic environ- mentalists, toxin-maddened sharks, Daryl Hannah -- "Shark Swarm" has something for everyone. The only thing missing are the wise-cracking robots from "Mystery Science Theater 3000," but that's where you the viewer come in. And may I recommend, for those not in recovery, having a very large bottle of tequila handy.

Because this is not your mother's Hallmark Channel: With a stunningly high body count and silly-but-still-upsetting gory graphics, "Shark Swarm" is not suitable for children or anyone with anything better to do over Memorial Day weekend. But as the TiVo centerpiece for a late-night B-movie fest, you cannot go wrong.

Here's the set-up (and sing along with me if you know the lyrics): A real estate developer so wicked he is named Hamilton Lux and played by Armand Assante wants to get his hands on a sleepy fishing village in Northern California. So he secretly dumps toxic waste into Full Moon Bay (cue fiendish laughter), killing all the little fishies and, of course, the local economy. One by one the villagers sell out, opposed only by stalwart Daniel Wilder (John Schneider) and his lovely wife, Brooke (Hannah), who just happen to own the property that is the centerpiece of Lux's condo takeover of the coast.

Meanwhile (and this is a film with a lot of meanwhiles), unbeknownst to Lux and his evil henchmen, a combination of hunger and sludge has created a swarm of super-fast, super-aggressive sharks that proceeds to gobble up villagers at an alarming rate. Alarming because no one notices -- fishermen, divers, a children's swimming instructor all become shark fodder, and days pass with no one remarking on their disappearances. So much for close-knit small-town America.

Fortunately, the sharks attack a boat and leave a large hole conveniently jam-packed with all sorts of shark teeth, which causes our man Daniel to wrinkle his brow and wonder if something could be amiss. As luck would have it, Daniel has a brother, Philip, who is an environmental researcher at Northern Pacific University (you know it is Northern Pacific University because every time we cut to Philip, the camera gives us a shot of the Northern Pacific University sign, just in case we have forgotten). Philip (Roark Critchlow) is not only a shark expert, he was just this very minute enlisted in a study of Full Moon Bay by professor Bill Girdler, who is played by F. Murray Abraham.

And that was it for me. When F. Murray showed up, I spent the rest of the three-hours pondering the real brutality depicted in "Shark Swarm," that of the acting life. How does a man go from winning an Oscar for "Amadeus" to appearing in "Shark Swarm"? For that matter, when did Armand Assante and Daryl Hannah become such caricatures of themselves? Surely there's a SAG bylaw to prevent such things.

Meanwhile, the sharks keep eating people and everyone keeps not noticing until finally they do, and then it is a Race Against Time with the swarm heading for a crowded beach and pier -- three generations of the Wilder family are in peril -- with only our small band of heroes, armed with (I kid you not) ray guns, to protect them.

I won't tell you how it ends because I certainly don't want to ruin it. There were times when I wondered if "Shark Swarm," written by Matthew Chernov and David Rosiak, was satire; after all, it's directed by James A. Contner, of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel." But if it is, it's ultra-sneaky, subtle satire, because the most hilarious aspect of "Shark Swarm" is its, pardon the pun, deadly earnestness. Hannah for one does not have the range for satire (or, I regret to say, much of anything these days), and Hallmark actually sent out a news release highlighting the "greenness" of the film -- toxic waste is bad! -- with Hannah and Schneider stressing the film's educational aspects.

Well, yeah, if you're a film student looking to resurrect "Food of the Gods" or one of the many fauna-gone-wild films of the 1970s. Otherwise, you might want to stick to Nova. No doubt there is something Freudian about our love of a good shark tale -- "There's something in the water" evokes our fear of the womb or the unconscious or whatever. Suffice to say that after watching "Shark Swarm," you will want to go out and rent "Jaws" because as good as bad television can be, it does leave you feeling a little cheap and greasy.

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mary.mcnamara @latimes.com

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'Shark Swarm'

Where: Hallmark Channel

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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