Wednesday, December 11, 2019

December to Dismember: SANTA JAWS (2018)

Confession time: I have never seen a single minute of a SHARKNADO flick. Yes, strange, I know. With my taste for B-movie buffets, you’d think I would have been all over those but they have all escaped me. In fact, nearly all of the six million SyFy originals about killer sharks have eluded me. Never seen one of the MEGA SHARK films, never seen SHARKTOPUS battle anything, and somehow missed TWO-HEADED SHARK ATTACK (I hear they are up to six-heads now!). So I guess if I was going to lose my SyFy Channel shark virginity, I better do it with something memorable. And, lordy, if something called SANTA JAWS (2018) doesn’t tick that box, nothing will.

The film opens with a young lady being held hostage on a pier by a deranged Santa Claus. We know he is deranged because he has “Feliz Navidad” tattooed on his forearms. Our male hero arrives to save this damsel-in-distress and the two men exchange a series of Christmas-filled one-liners that are so cheesy, I thought I was reading our blog for a second. Example:

Evil Santa: “You gonna shoot me like a naughty little boy? Or fight me like a man?”
Hero: “No sugar cookies for you. You’re going to eat your words!”

Jeez, did a teenager write this? Actually, yes. In a clever little twist, this opening is the work of Cody (Reid Miller), who is finishing up his comic book titled “Santa Jaws” with his friend Steve (Hawn Tran). Of course, drawing comics is just a part of his chaotic life as Christmas time in Port City, Louisiana sees him pulled in several directions. His parents hold an annual Christmas dinner at their restaurant and Cody is looking forward to hitting up the comic shop Christmas party. Oh, and he has a crush on the new girl Jena (Courtney Lauren Cummings) who has moved in across the street. His Xmas cheer turns to gloom rather quickly though when he gets in trouble for a cartoon sketch mocking his principal that went viral and is promptly grounded. Stupid internet! Brooding in his room that night, he finds a gift from his grandfather (Ritchie Montgomery) and discovers it to be a fancy looking pen in a case inscribed with German on it. Now if cinema has taught me anything it is that anything with German writing on the outside of it is bad news. Sehr schlechte Nachrichten, if I do say so myself.

Indeed, it does turn out to be very bad news as the magical pen brings whatever its user draws to life. Unfortunately for Cody, he just finished a sketch of his Santa Jaws, a great white shark with a Santa hat stuck on its dorsal fin. One green glow under the lake later and Santa Jaws is alive in the real world and ready to chomp on some Christmas chum. Now how or why grandpa had this pen is never explored and I’m sure that is because the film is called SANTA JAWS. You can’t think too deep with that title. Because it came from the comic book, it adheres to the rules of that comic; namely, Santa Jaws is attracted to anything Christmas related. Cody finds that out in a bad way the next morning when he is fishing with grandpa. The old man accidentally knocks his thermos of eggnog into the water and is promptly eaten by our titular beast. I’m guessing the wonky CGI on display here is up (or down) to SyFy’s standards. Naturally, no one believes Cody when he tells them grandpa was eaten by a great white shark with red eyes that glow like Rudolph’s nose, so he has to take the battle to the beast.

To paraphrase that Katy Perry song, I watched a movie called SANTA JAWS and I liked it. Well, I kinda liked it. Honestly, when you are watching something called SANTA JAWS, you need to accept it on those terms (after you have finished questioning your life choices, of course). To the film’s credit, it is a pretty inoffensive flick with a good sense of fun and adventure about it. The screenplay by Jake Kiernan - which may or may not be a pseudonym since it is his only IMDb credit - delivers enough Christmas spirit and the Santa Jaws concept is actually better developed than one would expect. For example, at one point they use Christmas balls to lure the shark in. The shark chews them up and suddenly sports some red and green teeth. Anyone who has stepped on a Christmas ball barefoot knows how terrifying that is. Later Cody tries to end the shark by using the magic pen to draw it impaled by a big candy cane, but it ends up becoming a horn used to impale victims. Just a little bit of creativity like that goes a long way for me. There was also a funny subplot about the comic book store owner stealing the pen and drawing himself that beautiful Russian girlfriend he bragged about.

Director Misty Talley has obviously swam deep in these waters before as the previous three years she delivered - deep breath - SHARK ISLAND (2015), OZARK SHARKS (2016), and MISSISSIPPI RIVER SHARKS (2017). That is a pretty jaw(s)dropping resume. She handles it all efficiently and gets good performances out of the ensemble cast (I noticed Jim Klock, who was funny in MASSACRE ON AISLE 12 (2016); Jesus, I’m recognizing no budget stars now!). If there is any downside to the film, it is probably that it would have been so much better if it had a budget to fully pull off the concept. For example, the end has everyone teaming up TREMORS-style to try to defeat the beast. But it really is just them launching some turkeys into the water at a local pier. If they had the budget, a boat chase would have been awesome. Also, the gore was pretty weak. I get you are shooting for a SyFy friendly audience, but going over-the-top wouldn’t hurt. The worst carnage on display is a random dude in an elf costume who gets his legs sliced off (and done with bad computer effects as displayed in the pic above). Finally, I understand why they shot in Louisiana (probably got one hell of a tax break), but it doesn’t really lend itself to the Christmas-y material. Had they a bigger budget to create a snowbound little town decorated pillar to post in Christmas cheer (think GREMLINS), it could have been a perennial Christmas guilty pleasure. As it stands, it is a perfectly fine 90 minute time killer and probably the best film called SANTA JAWS you will ever see.

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