Dir. Charles Robert Carner
There is a weird kind of masculinist environmentalism in Red Water where organizers who connect ecosystem devastation to war and oil extraction get a deserved comeuppance but thoughtful, individual men can legitimately come to care about the environment only if dragged there by a killer shark. It’s as if it is ok to care so long as you don’t tell anyone about it. It’s one of the only notable things about Red Water, a 2003 TV movie starring Lou Diamond Phillips, Coolio and Kristy Swanson. A bull shark is loose in the Mississippi River and it has killed a few people. Some violent men working for a drug gang are trying to recover drug money from the river bottom are also loose in the Mississippi River and have killed even more people. The oil industry is also loose in the Mississippi River and has killed many millions of people. But somehow the shark is the bad guy and source of horror for the story.
Red Water finds John (Phillips) down on his luck in the Louisiana bayou and needing a big score to stave off the bank from repossessing his fishing boat that is also his house. Along come his ex (Swanson) who is working for an oil company drilling in the river. She recruits John, a former oil worker, to help troubleshoot their drilling problem. On site they run into three men trying to recover money that one of them dumped in the river before a jail term. A series of nonsensical and deeply improbable decisions later and the oil crew and money hunters are at odds with each other as well as a bull shark that is hunting down seemingly everyone. From that point is Man Dodging Bullets vs. Shark until the credits roll.
Like all shark attack movies, Red Water fails to ask: can a shark even do all this? The answer is: No. At one point, a shark appears to kill several people within a matter of minutes. An earlier scene with John’s mentor makes it seem like the shark is eating the people it kills. Which would mean that over the one day the film takes place, the bull shark eats three times its body weight in soylent green. If we understand the early scene where a fisherman laments the lack of catfish to mean the shark has eaten those catfish, then it has eaten an even larger quantity of its body weight. No shark can do that. Nor does it randomly vary its feeding ground over such a wide area in such a short time. But since, somehow, filmmakers cannot imagine being killed and eaten by a shark to be a terrible or terrifying event, they have to create a monster in its place in order to approach horror.
Red Water isn’t a remarkable film. It would be a pretty standard heist film or shark attack movie and it’s very slightly novel that it combines the two. It’s reasonably well shot and paced and, apart from a couple of spots, the shark effects pass muster for a 2003 film. The performances surpass the budget but the budget is low so that’s not much to brag about. Overall, it’s kinda weird and you could do a lot worse.