When is an Italian Jaws (1975) rip-off not strictly a Jaws rip-off? When it's a Euro-crime thriller in sharkskin disguise. Treat Williams plays David, a shark-slaying rascal living it large in Cancun, Mexico with his pal Paco (Huggy Bear himself Antonio Fargas); lounging by the beach, getting into good-natured bar brawls and sleeping with the odd local beauty. Unfortunately David's brother James (Carlo Mucari) spoils everything when he double-crosses mob boss Rosentski (John Steiner). Upon flying down to join his brother in Cancun, James is shot dead saddling David with a CD recording of Rosentski's criminal activities. Sure enough the mob send a pack of hit-men after David whose troubles get that much worse after the CD is swallowed by his man-eating nemesis, a one-eyed shark called Cyclops...
Somehow Treat Williams went from working with Steven Spielberg and Sidney Lumet to Tonino Ricci, arguably the worst Italian exploitation hack of them all (although Bruno Mattei likely begs to differ). That said La notte degli squali a.k.a. Night of the Sharks ranks among Ricci’s few coherent, semi-competent films. That does not make it any good. The film still lurches from one absurdity to another and, despite that title, unfolds conspicuously in broad daylight. That is how haphazard a filmmaker Tonino Ricci is. Nevertheless Giovanni Bergamini's attractive underwater photography ensures the man vs. shark sequences are at least eye-catching.
However, despite scenes where aquatic predators maul the odd supporting character to death, the focus is primarily on the crime thriller side of the plot. Which slots Night of the Sharks firmly into Italy's weird tradition of hybrid Euro-crime/aquatic menace films including Enzo G. Castellari's livelier The Shark Hunter (1979) and Antonio Margheriti's Killer Fish (1979) which swaps sharks for piranhas. Ricci himself took an early stab at the subgenre with Cave of the Sharks (1978) which also features fan-boy favourite Euro-starlet Janet Agren, here cast as David's long-suffering ex-wife. Agren joins a host of familiar Italian exploitation stalwarts like John Steiner, Christopher Connelly as a kindly priest running a local orphanage and Sal Borgese as a mafia hit-man. Most are eclipsed by Antonio Fargas, strutting around, chomping cigars and chewing the scenery even though his character is nondescript and the plot entirely aimless.
Evoking B-movie clichés that go all the way back to the Thirties, Night of the Sharks dwells on picturesque scenes of local colour, colourful tourist spots and native dance numbers while the plot grinds laboriously from one non-event to the next. Williams, while athletic and resourceful, breaks from the Euro-crime mould essaying a hero more sensitive and vulnerable than the norm. Similarly John Steiner's mob boss goes out of his way to avoid violence, preferring to negotiate much to the annoyance of his right hand man who plays a more active role in the climax. However the film does not do anything with its quirky characters and plays too genteel. After a shock twist savages one key character in front of David's horrified eyes the third act disappointingly boils down to a sub-Rambo jungle stalk-and-chase between hero and hit-men. It says a lot that Ricci's direction makes even such potentially suspenseful scenes lifeless and dull.