Wednesday, April 25, 2018
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Review: 'The Shallows' a shallow, but efficient, thriller

Filmed like the sexiest dolphin alive, Blake Lively is shark bait in The Shallows, an efficiently preposterous thriller. The predator may not be hungry; he just wants a closer look.

Lively plays Nancy Adams, an adventurous medical school dropout after her mother's death by cancer. Nancy is grieving by visiting a secret Mexican beach where they surfed. She's gonna need a bigger board.

Making a short story shorter, Nancy gets a nasty nibble from said shark, retreating to a rocky area during low tide. High tide will allow the shark to eat her. Nancy says no to that.

The potential for suspense is as obvious as a floating whale carcass should be to Nancy and other surfers, but isn't, one of several face palm moments in The Shallows. In director Jaume Collet-Serra's scheme, tides rise and fall like flash floods and bathtub drains, and water catches fire for no reason.

This is precisely the movie summer audiences deserve, checking our brains for us at the door, so we needn't think even about that.

In the tradition of Jaws, Collet-Serra begins with a shark attack before retreating to teases and false alarms for a while. This one is more explicit, yanking the tradition into the digital era, a Go-Prologue of terror and social media references to come.

Some thrillers build tension with split screens; The Shallows resorts to pop-up windows from Nancy's cell phone, for exposition and next moves. Even when separated from her smart phone, Nancy's life (and others) are at its mercy. Anthony Jaswinski's screenplay makes Olympian leaps in logic but gets that much right.

Lively makes Nancy a resourceful hero, tough enough to perform suturing on herself using jewelry, and eat a sand crab to one-up a seagull. Obviously an intelligent woman, cameras frequently aimed at Nancy's bikini parts by Flavio Martinez Labiano suggest she's more than just a pretty brain.

Then you notice the convenient scoop of smooth in those jagged rocks where Lively can lounge. Wondering if the actor's face or lower is getting more close-ups. This is a brutal vanity project; peekaboo beauty and a CGI beast that Spielberg might've killed for. Lively pulls it off nicely. Even that seagull hangs around after she shaded him.

When sights of Lively's form aren't enough, Collet-Serra simply slows them down to sensual speed. Lots of slo-mo paddling (the surfing kind) and diving beneath waves, emerging like a water showgirl. Her perfect nose never wrinkles, even when poked into a whale wound. You might take all this Lively worship seriously and enjoy it. I didn't, and enjoyed The Shallows more.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall#tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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