2022, R, 89 min. Directed by Justin Lee. Starring Nicky Whelan, Shane West, Trace Adkins, Branscombe Richmond, Jeff Fahey.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Aug. 26, 2022

As long as there are studios in Hollywood, there will be executives greenlighting movies about killer sharks. With Shark Week wrapping at the end of July, Maneater, the latest such release, might’ve missed its window by a few weeks but it does its best to serve as a straightforward Jaws riff in the waning months of summer. Does it succeed? I suppose the answer to that question really depends on how much you like Trace Adkins. If the answer is, “More than anyone,” then – well, no, it doesn’t succeed, but at least you’ll be signing on for all the right reasons.

After being dumped by her fiancé, Jessie (Whelan) decides to bring her group of college friends on her honeymoon. Unfortunately for them, this trip coincides with a series of great white attacks on the local beaches. Harlan (country singer-songwriter Adkins), a local legend, becomes personally involved when the shark kills his daughter. From there, the usual occurs: The shark feeds, friends die, and a few tenets of oceanography are thoroughly bent in pursuit of a final showdown between Jessie, Harlan, and their underwater adversary.

One of the early victims of the streaming revolution was the middle class of direct-to-video releases. Over the past few years, the proliferation of streaming platforms has given a resurgence to a certain caliber of releases – more earnest than an Asylum release but still immersed in the alchemic dark arts of turning decades-old icons into direct-to-video stars. Maneater throws a few familiar faces into the mix, including the rising B-movie stalwart Shane West, and does its best to move the characters through horror movie paces without reinventing the wheel. For their part, the cast plays their roles as expected and does their best to not veer too outside the Jaws-shaped box director Justin Lee has created for them.

But Maneater is not a direct-to-video actioner so much as it is a franchise vehicle for Trace Adkins. If the film’s final minutes – and spoiler alert, I suppose, if you were willing to believe Adkins’ character could die in a movie the man behind “You’re Gonna Miss This” helped produce – Adkins’ Harlan is approached to travel across the globe to hunt another man-eating shark. It is a scene ripped directly from a Marvel movie, only Harlan’s superpower is that he really, really hates sharks. Is Adkins trying to launch a franchise with himself playing an unironic version of Burt Gummer, the redneck monster slayer from Tremors? Hell, I suppose there are worse ways to spend your months in between tour dates.

But even as a guilty pleasure, Maneater is a particularly rough watch. While it’s probably fair to give any movie released in the first half of the 2020s a good deal of latitude (the effects of the pandemic continue to ripple through VFX houses to this day), this is a film seemingly shot on a soundstage with a shark ripped from first-generation PlayStation graphics. There are enough shark movie enthusiasts out there that Maneater should find its audience, but if you must check it out, best wait until it’s available on platforms like Crackle or the Roku Channel where it belongs.

Available on VOD now.

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Maneater, Justin Lee, Nicky Whelan, Shane West, Trace Adkins, Branscombe Richmond, Jeff Fahey

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