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Killer Fish
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by Jack Sommersby

"Far From 'Killer' Entertainment"
1 stars

While the cast and crew got to shoot in a luxurious South American locale with lots of beaches and sun, the unfortunate audience, however...

Coming just a year after the unexpectedly good Joe Dante-directed Piranha, Killer Fish naturally leads one to expect it's also going to be a monster movie about those vicious, razor-blade-toothed critters. Instead, it's a routine, inept action picture that merely uses them as a plot contrivance when it's most convenient. Instead of a Jaws-like opening, we get an action-packed, dully-staged one where five thieves ignite an explosion in a Brazilian mining-refinery station as a diversion as they sneak into the facility to the company safe, which they break into and steal millions of dollars worth of diamonds and emeralds being kept for back-up capital. They successfully escape, and as a precaution so they're not caught with the loot on their raft by a patrol boat, they secure it in a small metal box and deep-six it in the lake with a marker attached to it to be picked up in sixty days when the heat is off. Fine plan, makes sense. (Well, okay, affixing the box to the underside of the raft would've been feasible.) Only a setback occurs: the next day, two of the gang, not pleased with the two-month wait, decide to double-cross the others by stealing it, only for one of them to encounter a spool of piranha when he dives in and is torn to bloody pieces and made a cleaned-to-the-bone skeleton by the title creatures who've been secretly placed there (one hundred of them that have multiplied into tens of thousands) by the ringleader in case anybody got premature and greedy. Not the greatest plan, makes little sense being that eventually someone's going to have to go into that very same lake and retrieve the box. The ringleader says he has a way of deterring them, but we're never told or shown what it is; and it's really lame that when this happens all it consists of is the diver expelling oxygen from their air tank to produce air bubbles to momentarily distract them. The rest of the movie has the two surviving thieves and the ringleader and a fashion model and her obese photographer and a captain of a boat stranded in the lake due to a heavy storm that's damaged the vessel and its lifeboat, with little options on the table in that the surrounding piranha will do in anybody who attempts to swim to the nearby shore.

As needlessly drawn-out as the lame-duck plot is, what with an array of dimensionless characters and mundane situations, maybe something halfway workable could have come of it. But the screenplay is a shambles. The gradually-sinking boat only takes in gouts of water right after a dialogue scene comes to a halt, the plot ploy of getting those non-criminals onto that boat in the first place is odious to the nth degree, and talent-deprived Italian director Antonio Margheriti is an absolute joke when it comes to generating and sustaining tension through the simple rudiments of cutting an ample amount of well-thought-out shots together. Considering how nonplussed the way-too-calm characters are to their dire situation (they might as well be on the side of a road waiting for a flat tire to be fixed) and the generic dialogue coming out of their mouths ("People who don't trust people are usually people who can't be trusted"), we don't have a whole lot of emotional stake in them. Further handicapping the proceedings is the anemic acting. As the hero, Lee Majors, a generally likable performer, sleepwalks without an ounce of pizzazz. Karen Black, who can blow hot and cold, is frigid in her wan femme fatale impersonation. As the shallow-headed model, Margaux Hemingway, herself a former model, is as wooden as a totem pole. As the villain, the ineffectual James Franciscus always looks as if he's reading his lines off a teleprompter. (The only one who looks like he's in the same movie is the always-reliable New York actor Frank Pesce, who brings some immediacy to his minor role as one of the double-crossers.) Add to this some rock-bottom special effects of the far-from-frightening piranha, which are filmed way too close; their inconsistent feeding frenzies, with an incidental character devoured within seconds while a primary character miraculously survives after minutes against them so there can be a happy ending; and their general air of non-menace so they might as well be harmless guppies begging for some pet food to be sprinkled onto the surface of their tank. Simply put, Killer Fish is worm bait.

It's not yet available on DVD. No great loss, believe me.

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originally posted: 12/10/11 11:24:36
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  07-Dec-1979 (PG)



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