Shark Night

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/08/11 02:50:05

"What's the point of a shark attack movie without teeth?"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

So, there's going to be an "unrated" cut of this when it hits video, right? Because as it stands, this PG-13 flick seems like a waste of a perfectly capable boobs & blood delivery system despite its genial cast. Was director David R. Ellis so spooked by how "Snakes on a Plane" underachieved with an R rating that he felt compelled to go too far in the other direction?

It's a pretty standard set-up: Tulane senior Sara (Sara Paxton) has a nice vacation house on a salt water lake, and she's bringing some friends up for the weekend: Malik (Sinqua Walls), a football star; Maya (Alyssa Diaz), his girlfriend; Nick (Dustin Milligan), his tutor with the crush on Sara; Gordon (Joel David Moore), Nick's roommate; Beth (Katharine McPhee), the sort of slutty girl; Blake (Chris Zylka), the sort of slutty guy; and Sherman, the yellow Labrador Retriever. On the way, they meet some of Sara's old friends she hasn't seen since going away to college, Dennis (Chris Carmack) and Red (Joshua Leonard), and the local Sheriff (Donal Logue). Everyone's having a good time, at least until one gets maimed by a shark which has no business being there and the boat gets wrecked.

The script for Shark Night is pretty standard stuff; writers Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg set out to build a slasher movie with sharks and hit all the expected beats, and they aren't exactly loading up on the irony (the scene where the college kids meet Dennis and Red is exactly the sort of thing Tucker and Dale vs. Evil hits gold spoofing). That's not exactly a bad thing, though - the filmmakers never look down on the audience for liking this sort of material, and they can push it to reasonably silly places while staying just on the good side of self-parody.

There's a decent cast at work, too. Sara Paxton will eventually grow out of being the cute, tomboyish girl in horror movies, but for now she's pretty good at it, making her character eminently crush-worthy and delivering the necessary exposition well enough. Dustin Milligan sheds the Clark Kent glasses fairly quickly when action time comes, but is fun both attempting to flirt with Sara and bouncing off Joel David Moore, who basically does his shtick entertainingly enough. Like them, McPhee, Zylka, Diaz, and Walls are all pleasant enough that it would be unfortunate if their characters became chum as opposed to friends, while Carmack, Leonard, and Logue play things entertainingly broad whether going for likable (Logue), macho (Carmack) or full redneck (Leonard).

Those aren't the ingredients for a masterpiece, but they should make for an entertaining B movie. The trouble is that, ironically for a movie about a lake improbably stocked with various types of shark, the action is terribly toothless, staged well enough but tending to cut away before the good stuff. And this isn't just a matter of how, considering the going rate for 3D movies, the producers really should give the audience value for money in the form of chunks of young actors heading for their laps; as they stand, several of the kills aren't even definitive enough that the audience can dismiss the possibility of characters suddenly returning with an improvised bandage later on.

(Although, to be fair, that may just be because of the theater where I saw it, which did not handle 3D/digital projection well that day. Ellis and cinematographer Gary Capo seem to be shooting native 3D and doing all right with it, but the presentation was poor enough that the blood & gore might have blended into the muddy picture.)

I'd like to recommend "Shark Night"; it's strikingly competent in a lot of places. But it's almost pointless in its current form; why bother making this movie if all the visceral guilty pleasures are going to be cut out?

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