Review: With Bad Special Effects and a Pointless Script, Maneater Barely Qualifies as a Movie

What the hell is this? Let me ask this very serious question: Does all special effects software just come with a bad CG shark as part of its package of stock effects? Seriously, when did people stop caring how bad the sharks look in films in which attacking sharks is pretty much the only thing of any interest happening on screen?

I should have realized when I saw that Maneater was the latest from writer/director Justin Lee (A Tale of Two Guns), a guy who makes at least one movie per year and has a stable of regular actors that includes the likes of Casper Van Dien and Tom Berenger, that this one was going to be of dubious quality. What I got was a production that is difficult to even officially call a motion picture. Plus, it seems to be completely unaware that shark-attack movies are a little out of fashion right now, in light of many species of sharks becoming endangered. But PC trends aside, Maneater is a full-on pile of dolphin doo-doo about a group of party animals who head to a tropical locale where they’ve rented a private island and basically get wiped out before they’ve even been within sight of said island for more than 10 minutes.

The film opens with a young female surfer getting taken out unceremoniously by a fake-ass digital shark (sloppily combined with what I assume is nature film footage of great whites just swimming around minding their damn business), and it turns out her father is a legendary fisherman in the area named Harlan (Trace Adkins), who seems intent on doing what the local authorities have to wait for authorization to do, which is go out and kill a damn shark. After a quick visit to a shark expert college professor (Jeff Fahey) for a few details on what exactly he’s looking for, Harlan heads out into the vast ocean.

Meanwhile, a group of…I’m going to say 30-somethings…meet at some tropic destination or another. The trip was supposed to be a honeymoon for Jessie (Nicky Whelan), but her husband-to-be broke her heart, so she invited her friends to come with her instead, hoping they would cheer her up. Instead, Jessie just mopes around this movie, exactly like you’d expect a sad swimsuit model to do. The only face I recognized among her friends is her douchey guy friend Will (Shane West), who arranges the boat in question to take them to their party island. Their skipper, Captain Willy (Ed Morrone), and his first mate Beth (Kim DeLonghi) are memorable because they act like responsible adults when things start seeming weird on their journey. Naturally, they have to take a dinghy from the main boat to the island, and that’s when the latest round of shark attacks begins in earnest.

In another movie (literally any other movie), this might all be slightly scary and tense, but in Maneater, I was rooting for 16-bit Glitchy Shark not to go hungry at any point on this journey. Just as things seem impossible to survive, Harlan shows up to hopefully save the day, of course, and ruins all my fun. Aside from the staggeringly bad effects, Maneater’s much bigger problem is more difficult to explain. There are several scenes of people just talking to each other, basically making chit-chat, and it goes on forever with no real purpose. There’s no exposition being put forth (there’s some of that in other sequences); there’s truly no character development happening. It’s just small talk because I guess director Lee promised his actors they’d get to improv a little, and this is the result. Meanwhile, the audience is sitting there wondering if the editor forgot to show up for work on certain days. It’s awkward as hell and makes the film feel embarrassingly unfinished.

Obviously, I’m not recommending this movie, but at the same time, I would love to put this before a midnight crowd who values the experience of watching bad acting attempting to make up for an even worse screenplay that in turn is trying to cover up a microscopic effects budget. If you consider yourself a connoisseur of fine cinematic schlock (to its credit, the film does get bloody at times), then perhaps Maneater might offer you a pleasant night of pain. The rest of you, stay out of the water.

The film is supposedly available in theaters and via VOD.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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