There was a time, early in his career, when John Stockwell was a perceptive chronicler of adolescent life, directing films like Cheaters, a fine TV movie about a real case of teens conspiring with a teacher to cheat in an academic competition, and Crazy/Beautiful, an underrated Romeo & Juliet story about a rich girl falling for a poor Latino. But then Blue Crush happened, and his career evolved in another direction, away from complexly drawn teenage characters and toward the superficial pleasures of hot bodies, sun-kissed waters, and shooting in warmer climes. No matter the genre—whether it’s a thriller about diving for ill-gotten treasure (Into The Blue) or a horror film about organ-harvesting in Brazil (Turistas)—Stockwell’s interest drifts to bikinis and surf, and whatever action he can stage underwater. All else is flotsam and jetsam.
The barely-released stinker Dark Tide continues Stockwell’s fetishistic pattern, coming alive whenever it’s paddling among the sharks off the South African coast and settling in for a long snooze once it gets back on the boat or reaches dry land. For Stockwell’s purposes, Halle Berry reps an appreciable presence in swimwear, but even her opening voiceover sounds swamped by boredom and regret. Berry plays a shark expert who’s made a reputation for herself by interacting with Great Whites out of the cage, which allows her and her boyfriend (Olivier Martinez) to shoot extraordinary footage of the animals close-up. When a shark lunches on a beloved collaborator—who seals his doom by talking about retirement before the expedition—Berry withdraws from the scene and her vaguely defined business collapses. Desperation leads her to consider an offer from an unctuous, thrill-seeking millionaire (Ralph Brown) to take him and his estranged son (Luke Tyler) out diving in “Shark Alley.”
Comparisons to Jaws are inevitable, but Stockwell keenly avoids the same mode of suspense: His sharks are not predators timed to the escalating rhythm of a John Williams score, but mysterious creatures that tread quietly before lashing out at a slight provocation. He foremost appreciates the ocean and the movements of human and shark alike for their aesthetic beauty, and Dark Tide succeeds, however thinly, in trying to do something different. Most of the time, though, it’s enervating in the extreme, limping through a second act where Berry works through the ancient clichés of a downed pilot returning to the cockpit and closing with a chaotic nighttime finale in a raging storm. Stockwell tries hard to capture the footage he wants, but the task of actually making a movie gets in the way.
Key features: Trailers for this and other Lionsgate DVDs.