‘Great White’ Offers Shark Film Fanatics the Bare Minimum

If Steven Spielberg predicted the flood of Z-grade shark flicks spawned from “Jaws” he might have skipped the 1975 project entirely.

Endless micro-budgeted larks with the word “shark” in their titles infest VOD waters. Some play up their absurd premises. There’s something blissfully self-aware about the “Sharknado” series, no?

Others take their shtick far too seriously.

“Great White” stakes out a middle ground, and it nails the one element most quickie shark flicks ignore. We actually care about the people who may become shark food.

“30 Rock” alum Katrina Bowden and Aaron Jakubenko (“Tidelands”) star as a couple who fly clients to exotic locales for fishing, relaxation and more. Their newest customers, Joji (Tim Kano) and his wife Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi), hope to scatter her late grandfather’s ashes on a parcel of land that meant a great deal to him.

A few brews along the way wouldn’t hurt, though.

Joji quickly clashes with the couple’s chef (an appealing Te Kohe Tuhaka) for reasons that are clumsy and unclear (racist? ex-beau?? generic jerk behavior???) but bigger problems await the quintet. A great white shark is stalking the waters, and they soon find themselves praying it will ignore them for other prey.

Sorry, gang. We need that shark to circle back sooner than later.

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“Great White” isn’t a big-budget affair, but the shark encounters are slick enough for modern viewers. The screenplay, while paint-by-numbers at best, makes us care whether the characters will make it to the closing credits. An early plot twist is as conventional as possible, but watching Bowden and Jakubenko embrace its fallout shows what can be done when genre players don’t phone in their work.

The actors are more than appealing enough to warrant our empathy, and so is Kimie Tsukakoshi’s Michelle if only for putting up with Joji in the first place.

Every shark movie needs someone who deserves to be bitten, of course, a Quint-like figure who makes the heroes look better by comparison. In “Great White” that task falls to Joji. You might hope he flashes a second dimension, or stops pouting for a full minute during the narrative lulls.

If so, that moment didn’t make the final cut.

Director Martin Wilson makes good use of the natural beauty around him, and a few watery shots suggest an eye for something fresh in the shark genre. He isn’t obsessed with staging attacks every 10 minutes, either, allowing us to step into the protagonists’ shoes. What could we do differently in this scenario?

The third act doesn’t go full “Sharknado,” but some of the heroics will undoubtedly trigger serious eye rolls.

A savvy film watcher will predict who will emerge from the narrative wreckage, which removes some of Team Wilson’s tension-building measures. The film still reminds us why we’re flooded with shark adventures good, bad and unbelievably awful. Sharks are near-perfect screen villains — relentless, savage and oddly beautiful as they slice through the water in search of their prey.

Sometimes the best thing a movie like “Great White” can do is to step out of the way and acknowledge that truth.

HiT or Miss: With so many purposely awful shark thrillers out there, “Great White” stands out for being both unpretentious and, this is the faintest of faint praise, not terrible.

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