Starring: Blake Lively
Rated PG-13 for Bloody Images, Intense Sequences of Peril, and Brief Strong Language
You know a movie is in trouble when you are thinking more about everyone except the leading lady who is present in every scene. You know a movie is in trouble when you get so bored you bring logic into a movie that doesn't want it. You also know a movie is in trouble when a movie that has all the right ingredients is still a sleep aid.
By all accounts, this should have been a great thriller. It's got a gorgeous heroine, who wears a bikini, is wet for 99% of the movie, and is smart and resourceful rather than a wimpering idiot. The premise is gripping in a completely visceral way, and it's got a director who has done some good work in the past ("Run All Night" narrowly missed my Top 10 list last year). But despite all that's going for it, it's actually a real trial.
Nancy (Lively) is a surfer going to a remote beach in Mexico. Her mother went there when she was pregnant with Nancy, and after her death, Nancy wants to go there herself. However, after a day of surfing, she decides to go out for one last wave. That's when she gets nailed by a shark that's sniffing around a rotting whale carcass. Bleeding from a bite and experiencing irritation from some fire coral, Nancy is trapped on a rock with an intelligent, and persistent, predator waiting for the chance to turn her into a meal.
The key to the success of a movie like this is the same as that of "Duel" or "Speed:" keeping the audience surprised and interested with the clever plot twists. On that level, the film works. The screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski is quite good at surprising us. It isn't "The Descent," but for a light summer thriller, it does the trick.
Of course, that would imply that I cared about the protagonist. In this case, I didn't. Blake Lively doesn't give a bad performance, per se, but she's not interesting. She doesn't have much of a personality, and the actress doesn't bring the necessary energy to the part to compensate. I found the shark, which is at times obviously CGI, to be more interesting. Ditto for the two surfer dudes who show up at the beginning.
Is the film silly? Of course it is. But with a movie like this, you have to be willing to "suspend your disbelief." I have no "bar" for what I will or will not believe. I'll accept any premise on it's own terms. But the movie has to give me something back in return. In the case of "The Shallows," all it gives is tedium.
Note: "The Shallows" is rated PG-13, which left me flabbergasted. After seeing the film, I'm convicned that the MPAA has reached a new low. At times, the film seems remarkably coy; Nancy sees someone getting snacked on, but we can't see it. On the other hand, one unlucky victim washes up on the beach in two pieces and crawls away from his legs. I would love to hear Joan Graves' reasoning for how this is appropriate for tweens.