REVIEW: Good-Enough Shark Night 3D Delivers Dumb, Rowdy Summer Swan Song
To answer the question that occurred to many when the golden-hued trailer for Shark Night 3D was first unveiled -- yes, the sun does eventually set on the film's hapless group of Louisiana college students, leaving them to battle their way through a long, dark shark night of the soul. Everything else about stuntman-turned-director David R. Ellis's latest effort is similarly as advertised -- an ambitiously differentiated array of shark species show up to chomp on the tanned, low-BMI bodies of the cast and, every once in a while, on the camera, darting at the screen with toothy maws open as if to gulp the 3-D glasses off the faces of the audience.
It's the type of proudly ridiculous B-movie that's right at home in the dregs of the summer season, when expectations are low, everyone's had their fill of shiny blockbusters and the serious stuff of the fall has yet to grace theaters. Not that there's anything wrong with that! Shark Night is painless, dumb fun, without the smirking self-awareness that made Ellis's 2006 Snakes on a Plane so much better to giggle over than to actually sit through.
There are times when the movie's refusal to wink is downright impressive. Witness the moment star-athlete-from-a-tough-neightborhood Malik (Sinqua Walls) staggers, red-eyed and wounded, to the water to avenge the death of someone dear to him. The sharks took one of them, and he plans to do the same to the sharks, he declares with a quavering depth of emotion that would make Stanislavsky proud -- "West Baltimore rules." Joining Malik in the broadly drawn main crew are nerdy hunk Nick (Dustin Milligan), alternachick Beth (American Idol-er Katharine McPhee), goofball Gordon (Joel David Moore), prettyboy Dennis (Chris Zylka), and Maya (Alyssa Diaz), whose personality is left at "Latina." The lake house, which is out on an island too remote for cell phone reception, belongs to enigmatic Sara (Sara Paxton), who turns out to have her reasons for not having come home for the past three years.
Shark Night's villains are of the Deliverance/Straw Dogs ilk of threatening locals resentful about the intrusion of uppity outsiders -- in this case rich college students frolicking in their bayou. Humpday's Joshua Leonard drawls racist suggestions and sports a mouthful of mangled teeth more disturbing than any belonging to a shark, while Chris Carmack plays his friend, a diver with metaphoric and literal scars. They may be backwater bullies, but their grand scheme reveals them to be at least as forward-thinking in terms of content as the average network executive. How they get the sharks to cooperate so well remains a mystery -- they show up on cue, always have an appetite, and hurl themselves out of the water in order to eat people like they've been watching the Samuel Jackson death scene in Deep Blue Sea over and over again on YouTube. Why fight it? Shark Night isn't fantastic, but it's a good enough time, and it'll never be better than when it's watched with a rowdy crowd in a theater.
Bonus: Stick around for the post-credits sequence in which (spoiler alert?) the cast performs a hip-hop plot song that's pretty awful, though Walls does manage some amusingly P.M. Dawn-ish stylings at his turn at the mic.