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Shark Night 3D

Shark Night 3D, the new animal-attack thriller from venerable shlockmeister David R. Ellis, is dead in the water. It might have had a chance, had it chosen to follow the path of Piranha 3D, Alex Aja's winking meat-grinder, and adopted a more self-aware stance, embracing its B-movie ethos. Instead, the film plays it disastrously straight - and PG-13, no less - wagering that it can make us care about its cast of pretty faces, frighten us with its collection of CGI sharks, engage us with a plot that integrates elements of Deliverance and a new-media twist, or titillate us with shots of exposed side-boobs and bikini-covered derrieres. It's a losing bet.

The story concerns a group of Tulane undergrads who descend upon Louisiana's Lake Crosby for a weekend of summer partying. There's Sara (Sara Paxton), a perky blonde with a past; there's Nick (Dustin Milligan), a bashful pre-med; there's Malik (Sinqua Walls), the exuberant star football player; there's … oh, who are we kidding? Most of these characters barely register in our consciousness; the lot are doomed anyhow.

The party ends when the kids discover that the lake has become infested with man-eating sharks. This happens when Malik, by virtue of being the ensemble's only African-American, is the first to get nicked, losing his arm but not his talent for over-emoting. When his friends try to seek help (we're warned in advance that cell phone service is unavailable at their island cabin), they incur the ire of the area's native redneck population, whose natural enemies happen to be snooty college kids on vacation. Surrounded by dangers on land and at sea, our protagonists must find their own way out, or die trying.

Even with the help of ample CGI and some questionably lenient judgment on the part of the MPAA ratings board, Ellis can't conjure much in the way of scares in Shark Night. Indeed, he hardly seems interested in trying. The film is almost entirely devoid of tension, lumbering along lamely from one telegraphed attack scene to the next, each episode of protracted underwater thrashing offering little to quicken the pulse. Rarely will you feel compelled to close your eyes. You'll more likely be tempted to cover your ears, if only to be spared the dialogue. rated this film 1 1/2 stars.