Harlin was a go-to guy for big-budget crapterpieces in the '80s and '90s, and still churns out dumb genre films on a fairly regular basis, although his last one, Cleaner, went straight to video. Deep Blue Sea is as stupid and cheesy as anything he's done, but I think it's one of Harlin's finest varieties of cheese; I'm often surprised by how entertaining his films are even in their rampant ridiculousness. I liked this movie when I saw it in the theater in 1999, and I liked it watching it again this week, appreciating its so-obvious-it's-awesome premise (giant, super-intelligent killer sharks run amok!), remarkably decent cast (Samuel L. Jackson, Saffron Burrows, Stellan Skarsgard, Thomas Jane, even LL Cool J as the God-fearing cook with a parrot), and effective moments of suspense. Harlin stages several cool explosions and multiple gruesome shark attacks, and along the way manages to come up with a plot-driven reason for Burrows to strip down to her unmentionables. That takes skill.
He invests the movie with a great deal of energy and a sense of fun; he seems like he's probably a guy who enjoys his work, and indeed a number of the cast members here (Jackson, Skarsgard, LL) have worked with Harlin more than once. Sure, LL's ghetto preacher is a bit of a stereotype, but he plays it off with good humor, and the movie is self-aware enough to have LL note at one point that the black guy never survives in situations like this - only (spoiler alert) to end up surviving after all. Plus, the whole movie is worthwhile just for the infamous sharks-don't-like-inspirational-speeches scene:
There aren't any real sharks in this movie, because, of course, there are no giant, super-intelligent killer sharks in real life (at least as far as I know), and the CGI sometimes looks weak (especially the effects meant to look like torn-up human victims), but the animatronics hold up pretty well. There are moments that are genuinely nasty, but there's also a strong enough strain of camp (as in the scene above, as well as anything involving the parrot) to keep things from getting too serious. This is definitely a movie you can watch with friends and laugh at, and then find yourself getting caught up in the action almost without realizing it. That's the Harlin touch.
(Watch the video for LL's awesomely horrible plot song "Deepest Bluest (Shark's Fin)," including LL turning into a shark, below. You'll be glad you did.)