Once you've watched a Bulgarian playing a Mexican drive a jet ski into the mouth of a prehistoric shark, movies featuring anything less start to shed their blossom. Shark Attack 3: Megalodon by Kickboxer's David Worth is a film so rampantly enjoyable the mere 'so bad it's good' tag barely seems appropriate. If consistent exhilaration is a fair indication of cinematic triumph then the rollicking good time had by all at SA3's pleasure is a fine alternative to sneering one's way though the Bennifer trainwreck in Gigli. I defy anyone not to feel good after watching it.
Let me set the scene. John Barrowman is Ben Carpenter, a heterosexual lifeguard. Near the end of the film our shark swallows a speedboat in one bite yet this piece of casting remains the audience's greatest challenge. Suspending disbelief is one thing, setting it on fire and pouring the ashes down the loo is another. Regardless, there he is in Mexico, with only a few hundred Bulgarians for company, too preoccupied with defending his title at the Smiling Olympics to wonder why. The credits reveal a crew made up almost entirely of names ending in ov, ev, eva and kin and pointing toward a wily location scout hip to the spiffy tax breaks afforded any plucky filmmaker willing to set a movie in Mexico and fill it with graduates from the Politburo School Of Speech and Drama. When loose cannon Barrowman, a term uneasily applied to the campest man in television, is hauled in before the big boss, Ruiz, we are treated to the first of many fine examples of the Bulgarian take on Rossellini's Stromboli method: need a cast? Use the entire village. Need a Mexican? Sorry, we don't have one. Ruiz chews out his rebellious employee with what sounds like a stern talking to but there's no way of ever knowing. You can’t even guess from JB’s reaction – when he discovers a shark’s tooth the size of a small hill in the third act not even this wipes the smile off his face. In fact, JB's entire performance speaks of an 84 minute struggle not to break into a tap dance.
Jenny McShane, representing both America and the scientific community as smoldering paleontologist Cat Stone, appears on the scene as Barrowman's love interest. Think Top Gun remade with Jordan and Sammy Davis Jr. We know Jen's a scientist because she first appears wandering around San Diego Marine Institute with glasses on and is clearly fond of kindly old Security Guard Todd (Europe’s Bocho Vasilev.) Although, how secure the Institute is under the supervision of a man who has more or less lost the ability to walk and talk simultaneously is anyone's guess. It's like his cue cards are being held up by someone dodging machine gun fire. It crosses your mind, perhaps John Merrick didn't die, he simply relocated to Tallahassee for low cost speech therapy.
I got in touch with David Worth, mainly to thank him on behalf of SA3’s spiraling fanclub but also to get the lowdown on the scene stealing Bocho Vasilev. Worth is so good humoured about SA3 it just makes you love the film even more.
CB: Talk me through the casting process, I love the San Diego security guard....
DW: The world of Independent Filmmaking comes with its own set of difficulties, add to that shooting on location in Bulgaria and having to find your supporting cast and bit players within their resources... Well as we like to say: "Some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you..." or "We are attempting to turn chicken shit into chicken salad..." As for as "the San Diego security guard..." Obviously I was not able to make chicken salad and the bear ate me.”
It’s a different story with John Barrowman. Jonathan Ross played a clip of SA3 during a recent interview with JB and it sent him into Tom Cruise rictus grin meltdown. He could take a leaf out of someone like William Shatner’s book and embrace his dodgy career. He’s in a movie with a shark that actually growls. Shatner has emerged a perfectly formed self-deprecating quip machine. Co-incidentally, he even had something to say about SA3 on his website, Shooting The Shit With Shat: “This movie is so bad, I'm still shocked I wasn't in it.” Now, if only JB could get in on the fun, he’d save himself a world of anxiety. David Worth, however, is full of goodwill toward Barrowman, telling me “He was inventive, creative and up to the challenges of a difficult location and a "non David Mamet" script...I was thrilled with his contribution to the film.” I asked how David would feel about a viral campaign to get Shark Attack 3 the West End premiere it deserves. He was most enthusiastic, “The London Premier of SA3 would be fantastic especially since the amazing John Barrowman has gone on to star in Dr. Who & Torchwood...”. I have a feeling members of the countless Facebook pages dedicated to it, not to mention its fans across the world, would happily buy a ticket to see Bocho Vasilev walk down the red carpet (I’d be on hand like a Stasi agent blocking any questions that might quite literally trip him up). I’m going to make it my new project.
Now, a slight spoiler but if we may turn our attention to the obligatory, if unlikely, sex scene. Preceded by dialogue now so infamous Barrowman was even quizzed about it in his Jonathan Ross interview. He stated it was David Worth's idea he make a joke to get "something out of the actress". The one-liner in question was never meant to be left in the film, and considering it runs along the lines of "I'm kind of wired...how about I take you home and eat your pussy?" this makes sense, as the effect on the viewer is as unsettling as it is unexpected. The laughter does kick in but for a moment or two you are pretty much immobilised. I've never been tazered but I can't imagine it’s a world apart.
I asked David Worth about the line, he tells the story differently. Barrowman requested another take and surprised everyone with the line, whereas Worth wanted to see if the producers would cut it. He says, “JB does it with such perfection that it really knocked me out... So, as a joke, I asked the editor to leave it in the film, just to see which producer at Nu-Image would ask me to take it out... Surprise, surprise... Nobody Ever Asked! So I left it in, in all of it's glory! Way to go JB!” Way to go, indeed, enjoy.
So, without giving too much away, John Barrowman sees what could potentially be his first set of boobs, ones obliging enough to star in their own establishing shot halfway through the movie. The camera then pans up to Jen's face as she stands atop a boat, earnestly scouring the seas for her beloved ‘Meg’. Her view is obscured by the four thousand or so bobbing Bulgarians on their way to a watery grave. Watching the gruesome attacks just feet away from her, Jen grimaces and mutters “Oh my god...” as if she’s just heard a racist joke.
Watch out for JB’s laptop slam (picture Barbara Cartland trapping a spider), early footage of a leaping swordfish (early as in 1960s stock) and an Eastern European double act who make the Chuckle Brothers look like Morecambe and Wise.
The movie’s available as part of the Creature Features boxset, and by far the best thing in it (beating off competition from Creatures and Octopus 2), or watch this space for the London Premiere.