On a tropical beach sits Mike Di Donato (Franco Nero). Don't let his Bjorn Borg-style, bleach blonde hippie hair fool you. Mike is a shark-hunting badass. He hauls sharks ashore with his bare hands then makes sweet love to his native girlfriend right there on the surf. What a guy. On a deep sea dive Mike discovers a sunken cargo plane with a cache of fifty million dollars. He hatches a plan to retrieve the money and recruits skirt-chasing diver Acapulco (Jorge Luke) to lend a hand. But the money actually belongs to the mafia. Rival mobsters Donovan (Michael Forest) and Gomez (Eduardo Fajard) try to force Mike to work for them but the resourceful action man proves none too cooperative.
After the global success of Jaws (1975) each sequel seemed to sire another trashy 'sharksploitation' film from Europe. Hence we had such seasick fare as Tintorera (1977), Monster Shark (1984), Sharks: Deep Blood (1987) and Night of the Sharks (1988). Italian action auteur Enzo G. Castellari contributed two films to this trend. His more blatant Jaws imitation The Last Shark (1981) fell afoul of a lawsuit from Universal studios but Il cacciatore di squale (The Shark Hunter) fared better with the international audience. Most likely because he had regular collaborator and iconic Django (1966) star Franco Nero as his lead. In fact among many alternate titles the film was also billed as Django versus the Sharks. Perhaps consciously recalling the actor's iconic spaghetti western role Castellari stages a Django-esque scene where Franco gets roughed up by a mob led by the director himself in an unusually active supporting role as a mob hitman.
From the get-go Castellari posits The Shark Hunter as the ultimate unrepentant macho male fantasy. We spend most of the film watching Mike brawl, booze and shag his way through the lush tropical setting, pausing occasionally for a little underwater shark-slaying action. Aside from the casually sexist treatment of Mike's girlfriend Juanita, who dotes on his every whim, disrobes then expires once she has served her purpose, modern viewers may well wince at scenes where sharks are stabbed, skinned or otherwise brutally dismembered. For a good half an hour the film functions as an aimless if picturesque travelogue. Once the plot kicks in it has surprisingly little to do with sharks. Much like Antonio Margheriti's Killer Fish (1978) The Shark Hunter is a crime thriller posing as a Jaws rip-off. Remarkably it took five writers to come up with the dull, circuitous plot. Castellari orchestrates a few eye-catching action sequences, particularly throughout the livelier third act, but it is hard to care when the characters are this vapid. Franco Nero gives another impassioned heroic turn though the flashbacks to his family tragedy are corny and clichéd.
There is an annoying subplot where the ever-sleazy Werner Pochath keeps trying to molest poor put-upon Juanita with predictable results. On top of that it is unclear quite what function is served by Argentinean actress Mirta Miller's fun-loving floozy. Strangest of all is the odd running gag of constant Humphrey Bogart references. Mike tells a band to "Play it again, Sam" and Donovan impersonates Bogie as Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948), the ending of which Castellari echoes in the fairly tense and witty final face-off. Maybe it is no surprise Nero's next film after this was The Man with Bogart's Face (1980). On the positive side the pounding disco score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis imparts a dreamy, ambient mood. Yet for the most part the film feels like something dashed off so cast and crew could enjoy a tropical holiday.