If The Meg and The Shallows weren't gory enough for you, try Maneater. It's a shark attack picture that shows the carnage in stomach-churning detail. Then again, maybe don't try it, because graphic kills are really the only thing it has working in its favor. Shark attack movies should totally be a little silly. This one doesn't execute the silliness in a pleasing way, though. A series of misguided decisions takes the fun away, leaving viewers with 89 minutes of stupidity.
Jessie (Nicky Whelan) has just gone through a bad break-up. To help her heal, her friends convince her to follow through on the vacation she and her ex were supposed to take. Pal Will (Shane West) organizes a party boat, run by Captain Wally (Ed Morrone), to transport the group to a secluded island for a night of drinking and revelry. A hungry great white shark is lurking nearby. Wally figures this out and tells one of the group, who has just suffered a deep cut in his hand, to keep his arm out of the water, lest the blood draw the shark closer. Does the guy ignore that advice? Is the Pope Catholic? Before long, everyone is trapped on the island, unable to safely return to the boat.
Then there's the “B story” involving Harlan (country singer Trace Adkins), a grieving father whose daughter was devoured by the shark. Frustrated by what he perceives as the authorities' lackadaisical attitude toward the situation, he sets out to track and kill the great white on his own. This plot strand allows Adkins to shoot a shark with a pump-action shotgun and say things like, “My daughter was eaten alive by a fuckin' fish!” Yes, somebody got paid to write that nonsense.
All the dialogue in Maneater is awkward. No reasonable viewer expects a shark attack movie to mimic Shakespeare, but everything sounds written. It's quite apparent that the actors are merely reciting dialogue. Weak performances don't help. In particular, Kelly Lynn Reiter, who plays Jessie's friend Brianna, overacts shockingly, as though she thinks this is a broad comedy. A couple scenes are rendered unintentionally hilarious because of how over-the-top she is. And what is Jeff Fahey doing here? The veteran character actor plays a local professor Harlan visits, yet he has no actual function in the story. That makes it even more baffling when he returns for the tacked-on finale.
Speaking of that finale, you may not see a more bizarre ending this year. After 80 minutes of sub-Sharknado CGI, stilted dialogue, and acting with all the charisma of a telephone pole, we're treated to a long sequence of exposition designed solely to set up a Trace Adkins: Shark Hunter sequel and allow the star to drop a dumb Jaws reference. You'd think a shark attack movie would want to end on a thrilling note. Not Maneater. It wants to make sure you're good and bored before the end credits roll.
A couple of the gory moments suggest the fun that could have been had, if only there were better performances and a wittier script. Writer/director Justin Lee may have had good intentions, but Maneater doesn't bring much new to the table, and the familiar stuff it delivers is done far more successfully in other shark attack films.
out of four
Maneater is rated R for language and some violent content/gore. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.