Maybe it's a karmic law of averages—for every Piranha 3D, we must endure a dimwitted clunker like Shark Night 3D. If you're hoping for a movie that reflects even an occasional shimmer of the face-ripping, penis-chomping fun of last summer's gloriously tacky killer-fish spectacle, you'll have to look elsewhere. The formula at work this time out is simple: If you can't scare us, make us laugh. If you can't even make us laugh, make Shark Night 3D.
Shark Night's problem isn't that it's bad; this is pure exploitation cinema at its most obvious, so bad is perfectly acceptable. Its problem is that it's not any fun. The film takes itself so seriously and plays it so straight that it forgets why we showed up in the first place. Even with the words "shark" and "night" in its title, it fails to deliver on its most basic promises. The sharks (which, admittedly, look pretty cool during their few, fleeting moments of screen time) are reduced to snaggletoothed MacGuffins by the film's real villains: a group of swampbilly snuff-film auteurs who are capitalizing on America's appetite for animal-attack footage.
That's actually a pretty interesting idea—a rare opportunity to do something thoughtful with dull torture porn clichés. But like everything else in Shark Night, it's just another missed opportunity.
For starters, Shark Night is crippled by its PG-13 rating; it's a boobs-and-blood movie that is permitted to show neither. In the film's opening scene, it looks like stuntman-turned-director David R. Ellis is going to have some fun with the overly-restrictive rating; a girl loses her bikini top in a muddy lake and can't come out of the water until she finds it. A bit of self-aware fun? It could have been, but the situation quickly degrades into an uninspired riff on the iconic first moments of Jaws, thus setting the stage for an hour and a half of predictable and practically bloodless kills.
Once the waters calm after Shark Night's opening nosh, it takes a half-hour and change for the action to start in earnest. A group of mouth-breathing morons are taking a break from partying and screwing one another at college in order to party and screw one another at a remote lake house. The kids are just oversized feeder mice, of course, but Ellis and his writers don't seem to get that; painful stretches of screen time are devoted to lengthy conversations about crap like feelings and what they're going to do if they aren't eaten by sharks in the next 40 minutes. It's a noble attempt at character development, but it's mostly unsuccessful. The characters are such clichés that it's impossible to take them seriously, no matter how badly the brain trust behind the film apparently wants us to.
Once the eating starts, it goes down exactly how you think it will. Characters are eliminated in the most perfunctory and predictable ways possible, with the Noble Black Guy being the first to give up a limb. (But not before delivering totally non-stereotypical verbal jewels like "I got no love for the ho's.") The film takes a hard left just in time for its third act, when the threat shifts from the sharks to the aforementioned rednecks.
What Shark Night can't deliver in gore and nudity, it tries to make up for in meanness. Even this ploy is defused by the movie's rating, though, since the villains can't do anything that's really all that villainous on camera. The protagonists, meanwhile, simply attempt to fight evil with stupidity. You know that guy whose face you accidentally tore off with a boat propeller a few years ago, and his buddy who files his teeth to points in order to look like a shark? You probably shouldn't trust those guys.
Of course, even a blind, decrepit shark is bound to happen upon a slow swimmer every now and then. In spite of itself, Shark Night manages to churn up a few moments of grade-A schlock that might make it worth sitting through when it inevitably shows up on the Syfy channel. Actually, that leads us to the big question here: Why didn't it start out there in the first place? It might have made for a good time. I would have had the luxury of watching it in my underwear—my small-town local theater frowns on that sort of thing—and I could have made the cat chase her little laser thing during the boring parts when people are having feelings instead of getting (sort of) naked and/or eaten. And the best part? All of this would have cost me exactly nothing—which, in the end, is exactly what Shark Night 3D is worth.