A bit more than a year before Shark Night 3D‘s delayed release, the gleefully enjoyable Piranha 3D swam its way into cinemas to surprising critical success. Piranha is a bad movie from a cynical perspective, but the filmmakers “got it”, choosing to excessively lather on the R-rated details (boobs, bikinis, gore, hot babes) with infectious joy and a devilish sense of humour. Unfortunately, Shark Night is not nearly as fun as its 3-D fish-based predecessor. Neutered by its commercially viable PG-13 rating (though it flopped anyway), it strips away the pleasures associated with Piranha, instead offering up bad acting and bad dialogue without any form of R-rated compensation. Exhaustively stupid and joyless, Shark Night is a catastrophe in every conceivable way that’s devastatingly short on shark thrills.

Exams are over and a long weekend lies ahead, so a group of fit young University students head to a secluded Louisiana vacation island home owned by the attractive Sara (Paxton). Before they settle in, the group are suddenly attacked by an array of blood-thirsty sharks who’ve somehow made their way into the saltwater lake. Making matters worse, one of the teens loses his arm in an attack, leaving the group racing against the clock for medical assistance. As the night persists, a devious plan begins to emerge that’s masterminded by a bunch of shady locals looking to make big bucks by filming genuine shark attacks.

Shark Night had tremendous potential to be a campy delight (especially with Snakes on a Plane director David R. Ellis onboard), but the docile rating, a selection of awful actors, and a truly terrible script spell doom for the production from the very beginning. The script is credited to two individuals (Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg), but it’s baffling to consider that it took two people to write this soulless rubbish. Shark Night is monumentally stupid, with jumping sharks (and no explanation for the ability), tonal issues, moronic plot developments and imbecilic characters (after getting his arm bitten off, a character insists he must head into the water to kill the shark!). Predictably, the dialogue is dreadful too, and said bad dialogue is far too plentiful. See, the writers erroneously assumed we wanted to see these tired archetypes deal with their personal problems, but none of this drama is skilful enough to develop the characters beyond the clichéd shark bait that they truly are. Thus, instead of frequent shark carnage, all we get is naff drama and tedious character interaction that’s only made worse by inept actors, rendering Shark Night for the most part intolerable. Interestingly, Avatar star Joel David Moore is in the cast, meaning he has officially betrayed James Cameron by starring in exactly the type of 3-D horror movie that the Avatar director abhors…

In the lead up to its release, Shark Night‘s supporters claimed that a PG-13 rating was okay because Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is PG. But nobody behind Shark Night can hold a candle to Spielberg in terms of tension and suspense, thus the film is just full of careless shark cam and jarringly abrupt editing that leave the kill sequences unclear and unsatisfying. There’s more blood here than one would expect due to the rating, but blood has a tendency to suddenly and awkwardly disappear (see the climax, when a shark is blown apart in CGI fashion, after which the water is clear and there are no gory particles to be seen). It’s not that extra gore, tits and profanity would’ve automatically made the film better, but there’s nothing worse than seeing R-rated material uneasily (and unsatisfyingly) masquerading as a PG-13. Ellis was clearly not in sync with the material as well, since he evidently strived to make a “serious” thriller (and failed) while the premise screamed for him to lighten up and provide a fun ride. Not to mention, the shark effects are dreadful. Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea was 14 years ago, yet its inconsistent shark effects remain far more convincing than anything glimpsed in this cinematic abortion. The animatronic sharks are barely seen in Shark Night, while their computer-generated counterparts look embarrassingly phoney.

Shark Night even begins by blatantly ripping off Spielberg’s Jaws. The opening sequence features an attractive beach babe doing her best Susan Backlinie impression while director Ellis tries his hardest to emulate the decades-old classic’s intense opener. (There’s even a boat skiing attack scene that’s eerily similar to a set-piece from Jaws 2.) But if Spielberg’s handling of Jaws was as inept as Ellis’ efforts here, then Spielberg would not have developed into the iconic filmmaker that he is now. There’s absolutely no reason to waste your time on this rancid picture. If you must watch it, though, be sure stay until the end of the credits for an admittedly hilarious music video. It’s the only thing worth seeing in the entire production.