Cinema: Overbite

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Directed by Jeannot Szwarc Screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler

Well, the big questions might as well be answered first. Is Jaws 2 as scary as the original Jaws? No. Is it as much fun? No. Will it make as much money? No. Is it a total catastrophe? Not quite. What, then, is Jaws 2? Quite simply, it is an almost scientific exercise in showbiz mediocrity. This smooth and passionless spectacle is too impersonal to win anyone's affection and too inoffensive to inspire hatred. It's so bland that it evaporates from memory as soon as the final credits appear onscreen. Were Jaws 2 not a sequel to one of the most popular movies of all time, it would probably sink, without fanfare, into the briny deep of drive-in triple bills.

Jaws 2 does have a few things in common with its illustrious forebear. It cost tons of money, is set around Amity (a.k.a. Martha's Vineyard), has a score by John Williams and stars a rather petulant shark. Roy Scheider, looking unaccountably like George C. Scott after a hunger strike, is back as the local police chief, and so are a few members of the Jaws supporting cast (Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gary, Jeffrey Kramer). But the crucial elements of the original have vanished: there is no wit, no genuine terror and no cinematic dazzle. The first Jaws was made by Steven Spielberg, a virtuoso director with a Hitchcockian ability to whip an audience into a frenzy of simultaneous delight and horror. Jaws 2 seems to be the work of a computer that has been programmed by the same drones who used to manufacture Universal Pictures' disaster movies.

It is sad to contemplate how little imagination has gone into this effort. The rudimentary plot is set forth in a gee-whiz script that stops at nothing, including the invocation of prayers, in its pursuit of the cornball. The obligatory beach-riot scene is a crude recapitulation of the one staged by Spielberg three years ago. Instead of presenting fleshed-out characters (and actors like Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss to play them), Jaws 2 is largely populated by nubile teenagers who appear to be graduates of the Mickey Mouse Club of Dramatic Arts. When these kids meet their unsavory fates, one feels more relieved than mournful.

Director Jeannot Szwarc goes through all the motions of making a horror picture, but he fails to realize that audiences like a dose of suspense along with the carnage. In Jaws 2, the mechanical shark rears its fake head at virtually every appearance and attacks with predictable regularity. There may be more casualties than last time around, but more proves to be much less. The prosaic shark of Jaws 2 becomes such a bore he might as well be a carp.

For all the film's torpor, it is not incompetent at the technical level. The stunts often look real, and one of them, involving a helicopter, actually jolts us out of our seats. But scare movies are not just technology; to come alive, they must have spirit as well as profession alism. Jaws 2 is only a piece of presold merchandise, untouched by human hands. It spouts buckets and buckets of blood, yet remains, to the bitter end, completely bloodless.

Frank Rich