Chum and Chummer
In the annals of great movie mash-ups ("Die Hard on a Bus", "Friday the 13th in space"), "sharks in a supermarket" is right up there with "snakes on a plane". Enter Bait: after a freak tsunami hits a small Australian beach town, a group of strangers finds themselves trapped in a submerged supermarket with not one but two hungry (and I do mean hungry) great white sharks. As with most films of this ilk, you pretty much know if you want to see the movie by this point. And the best I can say is that Bait does deliver sharks in a supermarket. But, after getting the premise moving (and it takes a long twenty minutes), the filmmakers are quickly trapped by their concept like, well, a shark in a supermarket.
The film opens with an obligatory shark attack before quickly (but not quickly enough) introducing a cast of blandly similar actors. The script - by Russell Mulcahy (yes, the director of "Highlander"!) and newcomer John Kim - attempts to squeeze a season's worth of CW drama into these opening expository minutes. There's the shoplifter, the estranged lovers, the randy, thrill-seeking couple (trust me, you'll be rooting for the sharks), and of course the botched robbery.
The actors - like the submerged supermarket aisles - simply don't have much depth. Well, except one, who looks a lot like Julian McMahon because, holy crap, it is Julian McMahon. The "Nip/Tuck"/"Fantastic Four" actor spent time on the long-running Australian soap "Home and Away" with fellow Bait'ers Phoebe Tonkin and Sharni Vinson, so this must be something of a reunion for them.
Director Kimble Rendall's recent credits include the Aussie TV series "The Jesters", which may explain his rudimentary handling of the proceedings. The attempts at suspense are repetitive and there are far too many near misses (you know the one: the character is struggling to get out of the water as the shark bears down). It's telling that the best deaths (propeller blade, improvised shark cage) are not shark-related. There is just not much the director can do with a script that's dead in the water.
Those of you who've seen "The Ultimate Wave Tahiti" on Blu-ray 3D know the ocean was made for 3D. The beautiful depth of field, the pounding surf, the infinite varieties of blue all make for an immersive experience. During the opening moments of the film, Mr. Rendall uses his location well. But the Blu-ray 3D picture is so pristine that it does no favors to the uneven special effects.
The tsunami comes and goes quickly, which is for the best (it's clear the filmmakers spent most of their cash on the shark effects, not the tidal wave). Once in the supermarket, Mr. Rendall does a nice job filming at angles, accentuating the length of his set. As a result, you get a real feel of being in an enclosed space. Though, by the same token, the ceiling of the supermarket is so high that the film never achieves a feeling of claustrophobia - the characters seem perfectly comfortable standing upright and arguing with each other.
Mr. Rendall wisely spends little time underwater (the 3D effects are still too murky in that environment) but when he does, he makes sure to throw floating debris in front of the camera and you may, seriously, find yourself trying to brush it away from in front of your face.
Pity the poor composer who must create the score for a shark movie. John Williams already trumped them all with a mere two notes. In this case, co-composers Joe Ng and Alex Oh acquit themselves nicely, using sharp strings to counterpoint the ominous, rumbling lower tones.
In the opening beach scenes, the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track fills the soundscape with wind and crashing waves. Once the film settles into the market, it's mostly about dripping water and the occasional jolt of "scare" effects.
Extra points for the "Mack the Knife" cover over the ending credits, performed by the director himself (via the band Rendall and The Slice).
Don’t go fishing for extras on this disc. All you'll get is a storyboard gallery.
If you've got extra time (pun intended), go back and watch the special features on the "Jaws" Blu-ray and take special note of the moment Steven Spielberg says if he had today's technology he would have made a worse shark movie. "Bait" isn't that bad, but it gives you some idea of what "Jaws" could've been.
"Bait" is less about sharks in a supermarket than it is a grocery-based "Poseidon Adventure". The sharks are simple functions of the plot and never behave as you imagine real fish might. The film is really about the survivors banding together to escape, and the characters are simply not interesting enough to hold the film together.
The timing of the film's release is both fortuitous and unfortunate. With the revelatory "Jaws" Blu-ray now in stores, audiences may be clamoring for some shark-toothed mayhem. But with that disc's excellent making-of showing just how good a shark movie can be, even a comparatively low-tech one, "Bait" comes out looking like chum.
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