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Shark Night

by on September 5, 2011
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Shark movies are an odd beast, so to speak. If you’ve heard our latest podcast, you heard us discuss the dearth of really good shark movies. Of course “Jaws” is a classic, and “Jaws 2” and a few select others like “Open Water” and, recently, “The Reef,” qualify as good fish tales. But mostly the best you can hope for is schlocky bad, like “Deep Blue Sea.”

“Shark Night” shoots straight to the “bad” beach, slathers on a little SPF 50 and stays around to build a sandcastle.

“Shark Night” is a 3D film, and there’s not a dimension to be found that doesn’t smell like day-old chum. (Full disclosure: I caught a 2D screening; it had shots that were obviously intended for 3D and I imagine would have transferred well.)

The film revolves around a school of Tulane University students who head out for a weekend of sun and fun at the lakeside home of lovely Sara (Sara Paxton). In our group, we have a gang just diverse enough to seem manufactured yet full of stereotypes: the superstar athlete (Sinqua Walls), the “nerdy” med student (Dustin Milligan, whom you might recognize as the bone-dumb male prostitute from “Extract”), the tattooed naughty girl (Katharine McPhee), the dorky friend (Joel David Moore of “Dodgeball”). And we get a couple of rednecks (Joshua Leonard of “The Blair Witch Project,” Chris Carmack) for good measure, who seem more than a little sinister. They’re all so bland, though, you’ll wonder why the sharks would even want to eat any of them.

And, of course, there are sharks in these waters. What kinds? Well, one character points out, there are over 350 species of sharks, and they fit in a good number of the more well-known breeds.

The first thing that doesn’t work in the film is that the characters are just likable enough to make you not want to see them become chow, so we lose out on that sense of fun. There’s only one character douchey enough to root for his demise, but even he redeems himself.

There’s some oddball backstory involving Sara that honestly makes a few of the choices she makes completely mystifying, an utterly ludicrous development that really makes it hard to believe that there’s any doubt how the sharks got in the lake.

Then there’s the question of the logistics of how the sharks got there, which the film doesn’t really get into, but let’s say given the film’s explanation, it would be nearly impossible for them to arrive without someone noticing.

The sharks themselves are almost entirely CG (with perhaps snippets of what could be footage of real animals here and there mixed with animatronic beasts), and almost without exception look horrible in that awkward way poorly constructed CG characters can be.

“Shark Night” fancies itself a tawdry gorefest, but the main problem is that it’s saddled with a more teen-friendly PG-13 rating, meaning there’s virtually no nudity (we get nothing more than a little side-boob and some bikini-covered naughty bits) and toned-down gore. There’s blood in the water, but don’t expect this to be as wild a scene as its thematic cousin “Piranha 3D” from last year. Most of the scares are above water, with fins pursuing frantic swimmers, or are of the pop-out-of-nowhere variety.

The film degenerates into a simple good-guys-vs.-bad-guys story, with the sharks falling almost into the background as a revolving threat.

“Shark Night” is, even for a shark film, surprisingly toothless.