Jaws is the best film ever made. Because of this, everyone and their cousins were inspired to make a shark movie. Some were either courageous enough or stupid enough to actually get their shark movies made. There are A LOT of shark movies. In spite of all my poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’, I am going to watch them all. I don’t know what will be left of me afterwards.
I won’t always be starting these columns with long-winded prefaces, but since we’re still in the early stages of this wacky experiment, I thought I’d take a second to let you Chewers know that the reaction to the first Fin Flicks entry was mind-blowingly phenomenal. I’m so grateful to find that people really got a kick out of the column, and the positive feedback has inspired me immensely. Our own Ryan Covey suggested that I stop being a species-ist and include all sorts of murderous marine movies, such as Orca and Piranha (two of the more immediate and obvious Jaws ripoffs/parodies). While I set out to focus solely on sharks for this column, there are plenty of movies that have stolen Jaws‘ DNA and plugged in a substitute creature. So, here’s the deal: I already have a list of fifty-five (and counting) shark-centric flicks to hunt down and suffer through. I figure once I’ve produced a significantly large number of articles dealing specifically with shark movies (or I reach a point where I’m unable to obtain a shark movie in time for a column), I’ll broaden my horizons to include other denizens of the sea. Though, don’t expect that to be any time soon. I’ve got a big back catalog of shark movies available to me, so I won’t be running out of content for a while. Plus, if I continue to release articles bi-weekly, that’s enough entries to fill out the next two years.
That’s the other thing I wanted to mention. For the foreseeable future, Fin Flicks will continue to be a bi-weekly column. However, because having a CHUD column is a dream come true for me, I am making it my primary writing focus. If I’m able to chug through a big batch of movies at a time, I can guarantee that I won’t miss an entry, the demand for the column stays strong, and the beneficent leaders of CHUD deem it wise to do so, then I will seriously consider making Fin Flicks a weekly endeavor. I’m certainly not promising anything, but I am being truthful when I say that I would love to have the time and freedom to do this once a week. If you guys really want me to be the first person committed to a mental institution for being driven mad by overexposure to shitty shark movies, then that’s a burden I would gladly bear for you, dear Chewers.
The Flick: Shark Night 3D (2011)
The Chum: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Carmack, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore, Sinqua Walls, Chris Zylka, Alyssa Diaz, Joshua Leonard, and Canadian treasure Donal Logue (actors), David R. Ellis (director)
Species of Shark: Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran), sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus), cookiecutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis), thresher shark (species unknown)
The Meat of the Movie: I’m something of a David R. Ellis apologist. Much like Dave Chappelle’s entire defense of Michael Jackson boiled down to, “He made Thriller,” I would always stand up for Mr. Ellis on the sole basis that he made Final Destination 2. Sure, he also ended up returning to the same franchise and sharting out what is widely considered the worst in the series (THE Final Destination). Okay, so he’s also responsible for the one-note disappointment of Snakes on a Plane. But, Cellular is dopey fun and has now joined the ranks of immediately dated movies that I can’t help but adore (The Net, anyone? …anyone?). So, for a selachimorphaphile like myself, hearing that he was going to make a movie called Shark Night 3D (even better, Ellis originally wanted to use the placeholder title, Untitled 3D Shark Thriller. Oh, to live in such a world) tickled me in all the right naughty places. I never go to 3D movies unless they are trashy genre fare (Piranha 3D, My Bloody Valentine 3D, The Wizard of Oz 3D), so I was biased as hell and pumped up when I paid for my higher priced movie ticket. I was probably the person in that audience most likely to forgive the film’s faults if it just meant big screen shark madness. …He made Final Destination 2.
The flick starts off with the exact kind of cheesy 3D gimmick that it should start with: a boat propeller IN YOUR FACE! We breeze through the opening credits and… hey, wait a minute. Was that a shot from Deep Blue Sea?
Well, the same effects team worked on both films, so I guess they just had some extra footage lying around and decided to slap it into this movie. That doesn’t seem lazy at all.
We get introduced to a nameless couple swimming around, and after some quick back and forth, the dude gets out of the water to get something to nosh on. The film then goes into full-on Jaws ripoff mode by Chrissie Watkins-ing (I have a feeling this term is going to pop up a lot in this column) the girl. This is a really shameless copy-and-paste Chrissie Watkins-ing, with the girl getting yanked back and forth, hanging onto a structure in the water (a floating raft/pier thing as opposed to a buoy) before receiving The Final Yank, and the moronic boytoy not hearing a word of it. Who were these people? Where were they at exactly? What did the boyfriend get to eat? Why does the first kill in a movie called Shark Night take place during the sunniest possible time of day? Who cares? Definitely not the film. On to the next scene!
At Tulane University (so I guess we’re in Louisiana), we meet our batch of future bait. First up is Gordon (Joel David Moore), who we first see playing Halo 3 and Skype-ing with his bro-mates. I’ve never had a problem with Joel David Moore in movies before, but this character is cancer transformed into a walking meatsuit. He calls his friend, “douchey”, he says that one of the players is “PMS-ing on the battlefield”, and his room proves that Microsoft must have funded half of the film’s budget. There’s posters for Gears of War 2, Halo Reach, Halo 3: ODST, a strategically placed Halo 3 case, and some sort of Xbox steering wheel controller. He is everything I despise about gaming culture. I have never wanted a character dead so quickly after being introduced to them. If he survives, this film is a hate crime. Fuck you, Gordon.
Our mostly main character, who isn’t an affront to creation like his roommate, is Nick (Dustin Milligan), the only bookworm in history that could double as an Abercrombie and Fitch model. As he and Gordon diddle away at their murder simulator, a stereotypical Angry Black Man bursts into the room, telling Nick that he’s going to “beat his bony ass.” Turns out that Nick was Angry Black Man’s tutor, and if Angry Black Man didn’t get a C-average, he’d lose his athletic scholarship to the Undisclosed Sports Program. After filling Nick with cracker fear, Angry Black Man reveals that he’s not a racist stereotype, but an actual character named Malik (Sinqua Walls) and that he got a B+! That means it’s time for a totally shark-free party weekend at an island cabin!
We’re treated to a montage of our other meals-to-be: the owner of the cabin, Sara (the cast-only-because-of-her-first-name Sara Paxton, who is not only proof that human cloning has already taken place, but that Alexis Bledel was the first test subject ever used), who Nick is all googly-eyed for, Beth (Katharine McPhee), who must be the bad girl since her introduction involves playing off a tattoo session as an anonymous sexual tryst, Maya (Alyssa Diaz), whose only defining character trait is that she’s Malik’s girlfriend, and Blake (Chris Zylka a.k.a. my least favorite part of The Leftovers), who is shown modeling nude for an art class, and I must admit has one heck of a chiseled rump. …Uh, what was I saying?
So, for a little character depth, Malik tells Nick and Gordon that he’s going to propose to Maya during their definitely-not-going-to-be-eaten-by-sharks party weekend. This is a perfect opportunity for Gordon to crank up his unlikability by calling Malik crazy since he’s a top ten draft pick in his Undisclosed Sport, meaning that he’s about to be surrounded by “hoes” (not the gardening tool) and questions why Malik would want to “handcuff [himself] to one piece of ass?” I want The Passion of the Christ to happen to this character. I want Martyrs to happen to this character. I want Theodore Rex to happen to this character.
Once we get past an entire minute of sped-up driving footage (think poor man’s time-lapse sequence from Breaking Bad), our merry band stops by a bait shop for supplies. We get the obligatory “your cell phones won’t work up here” line that has become my most hated cliche in all of horror cinema, Gordon spouts some more disgustingly sexist crap from his mouth (“You’re probably gonna have to get her drunk. She’s not gonna let you tickle her privates sober.”), and the gang has a confrontation with the cartoonishly villainous redneck locals. Not only is the store’s clerk watching a video feed of the girls’ bathroom, but another redneck named (*sigh*) Red calls Malik “the help” and offers to give Maya “English lessons in the back of [his] trunk.” Spoiler alert: this guy and his scar-faced friend Dennis (Chris Carmack) end up being super evil. We also eventually learn that Sara and Dennis used to be diving buddies back in the day, and that Dennis has zero resentment towards Sara for accidentally jet skiing him in the face.
The group gets on a boat and heads for the island, only to be chased by a police boat. Something exciting is possibly happening, after we’re twenty minutes into eighty minutes of film. Bear in mind that the only sharkening has been the rote opening sequence, and the film has exhausted a quarter of its run-time. The police boat catches up with the youngsters and… oh, it’s the town sheriff who has known Sara her whole life and was racing her. At least Sheriff Greg Sabin is played by the always welcome Donal Logue (a.k.a. the only enjoyable part of Gotham), who proves he’s still a groovy dude by downing a brewski and taking another for the road.
There’s another time-lapse montage of everyone getting settled in (this one features some really terrible speed ramping), a fake out bit of tension with a dog that wishes it was as memorable as poor Pippet, and a few throwaway scenes that fail to make our characters relatable. Malik heads out to do some wakeboarding, and close to the thirty minute mark, we finally get a taste of the reason for watching this movie (just a fin, but I’ll take anything I can get at this point). Looks like Shark Night 3D wasn’t content with ripping off both Jaws and Jaws 3D, since this segment is a pretty blatant “homage” to the skier death in Jaws 2. Malik is knocked off by an unseen assailant and has got to be fish food. But, wait! Malik isn’t dead! He manages to make it back to the shore and he’s even shed a few pounds in the process. Watersporting with sharks is weight loss magic!
Everyone crowds around Malik and the movie takes a moment to double down on the “no cell phone reception” scene with the even more overplayed “I can’t get a signal!” bit. To make it even worse, Gordon is the one who says it. I await his death with an executioner’s switch-flipping anticipation. Nick uses some med school magic (towels and sticks) to stabilize Malik and then Nick dives into the water to look for his friend’s arm. I’ll admit that this is enormously inane, but I find it kind of idiotically sweet that Nick thinks he can save his buddy’s arm. It’s just an excuse to have Nick narrowly escape getting chomped, but even that little bit of action falls flat. There’s less than an hour left and the lack of shark screen time has crippled this movie, much like Malik’s recent stumpification. …Too soon?
Nick, Sara and Maya get on the boat and start to drive Malik to the nearest hospital, but Malik’s blood just can’t resist dripping into the water, leaving a tasty trail for the bull shark that slimmed down Malik just minutes ago. Somehow, the shark exerts enough force to knock Maya into the water, and after a tension-free chase scene, she is killed off-screen. Off. Screen. Well, the shark rams the boat a few more times (because sharks love to ram things with their super-sensitive snouts), breaking the rudder and forcing everyone to jump overboard. Explosion happens, 3D CGI debris flies at the screen, and I spend my time fondly remembering the cheesesteak I had for lunch the day before.
When the shambling homunculi we’re calling characters get back to the shore and have a “This is your fault!” squabble, we do get one teeny bit of actual fun. The gang sends up a flare and we see Sheriff Donal Logue in his patrol car, air drumming to Ratt’s “Lay It Down”, causing him to miss their cry for help. In a better version of this film, Donal Logue is the main character and the film is about an immature sheriff dealing with a shark infestation. It could have been his Lake Placid. If there’s an unmade movie heaven, that film is a midnight staple.
Dennis and Red show up and offer to help, taking Beth and Gordon with them to the marina to… I don’t even know anymore. I was headfirst in a bowl of macaroni and cheese by the time this part of the film came around. Red cranks up the sinister dial to seventy-three, perving out over Beth’s luscious baps. Meanwhile, Malik is told about Maya’s death and decides that the movie needs something cool in it. He manifests a spear from out of nowhere and strolls into the lake, calling out for the shark. With just thirty minutes left, the movie is threatening some actual absurdity. Does it follow through?
Yes! Malik lures a hammerhead in, punches it in the face and then makes with the javelining. Where was this brilliance for the first half of the film? Why couldn’t Malik’s girlfriend be the Chrissie Watkins from the opening, and the film be about him revengeancing man-eaters for eighty minutes? Sinqua Walls is honestly awesome in this scene and the lead-up to it. It made me realize how wasted his potential was, and it gave the whole moment a bittersweet flavor.
Back on the SS Bad Guys, Dennis and Red reveal that they put the sharks in the lake. Why? Not explained and not important right now, because all that matters is that Dennis shoots Gordon (sideways-gun-holding gangsta style) into the water. Gordon swims over to a tree and climbs up onto the trunk, feeling safe. Then, that bull shark from earlier soars out of the water and snatches Gordon with one fell swoop. I rewound the scene at least six times. It’s actually not the best looking moment in the film (the CGI shark is blech and it’s a bloodless kill), but it’s easily the most satisfying. Fuck you, Gordon.
Back at the lake house, Nick examines the dead hammerhead and finds a camera attached to it. Now the plot is beginning to rear its ridiculous head. On the good ship Lollipop, our dastardly duo make Beth strip down to her unmentionables and jump into a net off the side of the boat filled with… cookiecutter sharks? They really went for a deep cut with this species, and they picked one that’s just way too stupidly cute looking. Just look at that wittle face!
I wanna pinch his cheeks and call him Thurston Muffinhead.
Beth gets perforated by Thurston and his cookiecutting pals, while Leftovers boy straps Malik onto the back of a jet ski and rides off into the dark. Shortly thereafter, Sheriff Logue stops by and offers to help, when… oh, no! Donal Logue is bad too? But he was so lovable! At least this means some high class scenery chewing by Logue, who sneakily knocks out Nick with some soup mixed with a tranquilizer. Sara fights back, but ends up with some sweet tranquilizer dart in her back (“It’s like gettin’ sucked off by an angel.”).
Malik and Leftovers are out on the river when the weakened Malik spots a fin coming towards them. He detaches himself from the jet ski, sacrificing himself to save his non-spear-wielding loser of a friend. Leftovers turns around to look for Malik, and then this happens:
Why couldn’t that have been Gordon?
Donal Logue ties Nick up in a shack, dangles him over a tank full of sand tiger sharks, and does the Bond villain speech. He tells Nick that the longest running cable program of all time is “Shark Week”, and that he and Team Redneck are filling the lake with sharks, attaching cameras to them and filming them eating people. In this monologue, he references Faces of Death and March of the Penguins within twenty-five seconds of each other. This is what the movie needed to be filled with. This is why Donal Logue’s screen time needed to be quadrupled. For all the things Shark Night 3D is doing right in the final stretch, it’s just reinforcing how milquetoast the majority of its running time has been. Well, Nick uses Donal’s love of hair metal as a distraction, allowing him to escape and set The Logue on fire. Instinctively, Donal dives into the shark tank and is sand tiger-ed into oblivion. Goodbye, Sheriff Sabin. I’ll see you in unmade movie heaven.
In the final five minutes of the film, Dennis puts Sara into a dive cage, douses her in blood, and Red releases a great white to snack on her. Nick shows up and holds Dennis’ hetero life-mate hostage. Dennis is one cold cat though, and he knives Red in the stomach. Nick and Dennis fight, Dennis gets knocked into the water, the great white uses Dennis’ head as a chew toy (this is the most violent kill in the whole movie, and it’s very briefly seen), Nick grabs a bang stick that Red had shown the group earlier and shoots the great white in the head. With a quick bit of CPR on Sara, Nick saves the day and his future modeling career. As they both stare out into the horizon, dreaming of spending their lives together in a landlocked state, the film uses the exact same shot of the shark that air-munched on Leftovers (they just mirror the image) to try to cram in a jump scare at the end. The credits roll, and they use the exact same shot from Deep Blue Sea that was yoinked for the opening credits. Way to end the movie on some compounded laziness.
Well, at least the movie wasn’t terribly long. Huh, there’s still ten minutes left. These must be some long credits. …Wait, is there a post-credits stinger? Is Donal Logue going to rise from his watery grave? What could the final message of Shark Night 3D possibly be?
You know, I could be a completely cynical grumpass and say this is awful and knowingly stupid and relentlessly poke fun at it. But, after the film I just watched, this music video has the kind of gleeful mood the movie was sorely missing. It seems pretty obvious that the cast had a fun time making this movie, to the point that they made an unabashedly silly treat for the people who sat through the credits. It’s a shame that spirit didn’t carry over into the rest of the film.
Fuck you, Gordon.
Best Meal: Objectively, it’s the aerial ballet seen above. But, I could watch Gordon die until the sun goes supernova.
How the Sharks Get Sushi-ed: Out of the numerous sharks on display, only two get sushi-ed. Malik goes all Call It Courage on a hammerhead, while Nick is far less badass by using a run-of-the-mill bang stick to show the audience what great white shark brains look like.
The Mindless Eating Machine: Some really good animatronics from Edge Innovations, who previously made the sharks for Deep Blue Sea, and some CGI that ranges from passable to PS2 launch title levels of quality. There’s also oodles of live shark footage in the opening and closing credits.
Shark Stupidity: The cookiecutter scene. I know that there’s at least one report of an underwater photographer being attacked by a school of cookiecutters, but come on. I’ll believe a great white leaping out of the water to munch on a jet skier before I believe a swarm of adorable little fishies could kill a person in under one minute.
Hilarity Factor: Too few and far between to keep the movie afloat (how long before I’ve exhausted every iota of maritime terminology?). Excluding Donal Logue and an all-too-briefly utilized Sinqua Walls, no one gives a performance that’s genuinely amusing. There isn’t even any so-bad-it’s-good acting going on. And you only get a handful of laughable shark shenanigans, not nearly as much as the movie could have dealt out, considering its budget and fairly notable profile.
Sink or Swim?: Even with its eclectic species roster and better-than-average effects (for a shark movie), this is a Sinker. The pacing is inexcusably languid (after the opening, there isn’t any shark action for over twenty minutes), the majority of the characters are either unlikable or too thinly sketched to even be called characters, and the ratio of sharky good times to boring human backstory and failed attempts at crafting characters heavily favors the homo sapiens. There are some moments that merit mention, but they’re all crammed into the beginning of the third act, and there’s nothing spectacular enough to justify sitting through the entire film. The PG-13 rating is also a huge hindrance, making nearly all of the human deaths disappointingly tame. Let’s remember David R. Ellis for the symphony of carnage that is Final Destination 2 instead of this unfortunate coda to his cinematic career.
Next Time: I will kill Up from the Depths.
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