"Shark Night 3D" gives you what you'd expect, just not "Piranha 3D"

Shark Night 3D (2011)
91 min., rated PG-13.

A little "Deep Blue Sea" here, a lot of "Piranha 3D" there, and some TV's "Shark Week" in between, "Shark Night 3D" pits teen meat against sharks. When you go into a movie called "Shark Night 3D," all you want are some fun scares and attractive people getting chomped on real good. Not really much to ask for at the dreary end of the summer, so go big or go home. A PG-13 rating and a release date on Labor Day weekend (when you'll be too busy at your family cookout anyway) have already formed some preconceptions against this pretension-free flick, but it's not completely useless after all. From director David R. Ellis ("Final Destination 2," "Snakes on a Plane," and "The Final Destination"), "Shark Night 3D" is basically Sharks in a Lake, as it delivers on what it minimally promises. 

After an anonymously big-breasted wader gets dragged around like a chew toy in an obvious homage to "Jaws," the plot proper—not that it really matters to explain—takes a formulaic setup as any. With finals over at Tulane University, a group of impossibly good-looking, low-BMI college friends get ready for a long weekend of fun in the sun at the salt-watered Lake Crosby, Louisiana (which has poor cell service; fortunate for the plot, unfortunate for these kids). Pretty bayou girl Sara (Sara Paxton) is the hostess of the lakeside house, but before they even all get a chance to wakeboard, one of them, token black jock Malik (Sinqua Walls) no less, gets bit by a shark. What's worse than one man-hungry shark? Different species of man-hungry sharks in the entire Louisiana lake! And it's no coincidence that the two shady locals at the bait shop (Chris Carmack and Joshua Leonard of "The Blair Witch Project") are up to no good, especially when the one has teeth as razor-sharp as a shark. 

Filmmaker Ellis might be the new Renny Harlin when it comes to engineering cheap, efficiently paced trashy fun. He was so on board to make a proudly silly B-movie that his first official title was going to be "Untitled Shark Thriller 3D." But even on its own terms, "Shark Night 3D" hedges its bets a little. Last summer's "Piranha 3D" wasn't afraid to exploit itself shamelessly, giving us an awesomely fun jambalaya of gore, grautitous nudity, and Jerry O'Connell's severed one-eyed monster…in 3-D! This one's not very gore-friendly and too shy to flash us some Mardi Gras knockers (plenty of naked backs though!). Still, the filmmakers have enough integrity to make a popcorn flick and nothing more, and it's never as bad as "Jaws: The Revenge" or "Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus" . . . although the absurd reason for the sharks being in the lake surely makes it come close. 

The cast, surprisingly, isn't bad—more notable for their bodies than their acting chops, that's for sure—and at least they can go home and say, "Mom, Dad, I got attacked by a fake hammerhead at work!" Paxton, the most known of the bunch, has the only real character background as Sara, and Dustin Milligan is the likable hero, Nick, a pre-med student who studies a lot but still has six-pack abs. "American Idol" contestant Katharine McPhee is feisty and looks good in a bikini as the tattooed chick, Beth, and Joel David Moore is amusing as a Van Wilder wannabe but wouldn't look good in a bikini. Donal Logue, as the less-strict sheriff, also shares an easy rapport with Paxton. 

There's little apprehension or suspense in whether or not these nobodies will live or become chum, and even some of the shark attacks are pretty tame (read: someone falls into the water, tries swimming away, a shark fin surfaces, and the poor schmuck soon goes under). At least the 3-D goes for the gimmick in the service of three cool jump scares, proving the digitally created sharks to be great acrobats. If you wait until the end of the credits, the viewer will be treated to a surprising, upbeat rap video, performed by the cast and directed/edited by actor Milligan. For a good, gruesome time and a boobs-and-gore palooza, see "Piranha" again, but if watching sharks attack hot people wets your whistle, "Shark Night 3D" is well-made, watchable entertainment.

Grade: B -