Shark Night 3D
Director : David R. Ellis
Screenplay : Will Hayes & Jesse Studenberg
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Sara Paxton (Sara), Dustin Milligan (Nick), Chris Carmack (Dennis), Katharine McPhee (Beth), Chris Zylka (Blake), Alyssa Diaz (Maya), Joel David Moore (Gordon), Sinqua Walls (Malik), Donal Logue (Sabin), Joshua Leonard (Red), Jimmy Lee Jr. (Carl), Damon Lipari (Keith), Christine Quinn (Jess), Kelly Sry (Wonsuk), Tyler Bryan (Kyle)
Snatching the mantle of “Worst 3D Shark Movie,” which has long been held unchallenged by Jaws 3D (1983), Shark Night supplies some cheesy late-summer tedium in its sloppy mixture of revenge-of-nature thrills and hillbilly horror. Set in and around a large salt water lake deep in the bayou, it offers up a forgettable group of buff, well-manicured Tulane University students as smorgasbord for a pack of hungry, digitally enhanced sharks that have somehow found their way inland. Stuntman-turned-schlock-auteur David R. Ellis (The Final Destination) is clearly aware that he’s serving the cinematic equivalent of junk food, but the film’s rote nature and its complete lack of the kind of self-aware trashy thrills and humor we might expect from a good Renny Harlin flick (or even Ellis’s immortal Snakes on a Plane) drain it of energy and fun.
The screenplay by first-timers Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg assembles a lot of familiar parts, but fails to give them a unique spin. The movie starts in traditional fashion with a bikini-clad bather getting attacked by unseen jaws from below, after which we jump to Tulane for brief introductions of the largely interchangeable main characters, which include studious pre-med nerd Nick (Dustin Milligan), varsity athlete Malik (Sinqua Walls), and beauty-with-a-mysterious-past Sara (Sara Paxton), who join several others on a weekend road trip to Sara’s family get-away, an island lakehouse located deep enough in the woods that you start expecting to hear “Dueling Banjos.” Alas, no stringed instruments are used menacingly, but Sara does run into her old flame Dennis (Chris Carmack), a diving instructor who hangs out with Red (Joshua Leonard), a racist redneck whose gnarled front teeth are the movie’s finest exemplar of character development.
It isn’t long before the collegiate weekend warriors discover that the lake is home to several man-eating sharks, which are depicted with a combination of CGI and animatronic effects that have been touted in the media as having caused several injuries during the production (apparently, the special effects gurus felt the need to use actual teeth in the mechanical sharks in a strange bid for verisimilitude). Most of the effects are laughable, especially when we see the CGI sharks speeding through the water directly toward the camera; there is no sense of tension or suspense, just a rush to get the sharks on-screen, although the abrupt editing during the attacks suggests that this was an R-rated movie rendered PG-13 safe at the last minute. The film’s desperate attempts to grab your attention are never so obvious as when Ellis literally speeds up the action, the only real benefit of which is cutting down on the film’s running length. (It doesn’t help either that the 3D is incompetently rendered, mixing up the spatiality of foregrounds and backgrounds while making the film unremittingly dark and dingy.)
The sharks’ speed, strength, and aggressiveness would seem to suggest some kind of mad-scientist manipulation, but is actually just the byproducts of lazy screenwriting. There is, to be fair, a backstory to the sharks, one of that offers some real potential for critiquing the manner in which our culture’s intertwined obsession with reality television and shark menace has resulted in the Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week” becoming the longest-running phenomenon on pay cable. Yet, that backstory is tossed out in such a perfunctory manner that it loses all its bite, making it as toothless as the rest of the movie.
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Rogue