The best one could hope from a movie titled Shark Night 3D is that it be gleefully crass, with a plethora of sharks lashing out at the camera. Indeed, in my boundless innocence and optimism, I would go so far as to say that there is no other possible reason to give a movie the title Shark Night 3D in the first place. But that's giving far too much credit to the makers of Shark Night 3D, who are primarily willing to put both the sharks and the 3-D on the back burner, in favor of a hatefully paint-by-numbers story of pretty young people on vacation flirting, bickering, and dying, with far too little of the third and far too much of the first for my tastes. I had expected more of David R. Ellis, whose last film, The Final Destination, at least knew how to bring the cheesy 3-D effects, and whose film two before that, Snakes on a Plane, is a master class in delivering exactly the film promised by your title (though I'll give him this much credit: apparently he fought to have the film called Untitled 3D Shark Thriller, which would have been the absolute peak of the 2011 movie year).

After the customary shock opening, which finds a pretty girl being eaten while swimming, and thereby pays its dutiful homage to Jaws with far less wit than Piranha 3D did, the film gets down to brass tacks and introduces us to the Expendable Meat that we'll be suffering with for 90 crisply-paced minutes: Nick (Dustin Milligan), a pre-med student at Tulane; his nerd roommate Gordon (Joel David Moore); Malik (Sinqua Walls), the athlete Nick has been tutoring (because don't you know, all black students are necessarily athletes, and all athletes/black students need tutoring; at least the filmmakers didn't compound it all by killing him first); Malik's girlfriend Maya (Alyssa Diaz); Blake (Chris Zylka) and Beth (Katharine McPhee, who has to make do as the most famous person in the cast), a friendly couple with no personalities or backstory; and Sara (Sara Paxton), whose family owns the gigantic lake house on an island somewhere in Lake Pontchartrain that the seven young people will be visiting for the weekend. Incidentally, if we allow that Malik will invite along his tutor, out of thanks for his shockingly good grades & because he's just a good guy, it still beggars belief that he'd also invite the tutor's roommate, an obvious social outcast among the gorgeous specimens of privileged youth that make up the rest of the party.

So off they drive, in the first of several sped-up montages, teaching us all that fast-motion sequences from the POV of a camera mounted in the front seat of a car, pointing forward, are the worst possible thing to put into a 3-D movie unless your specific goal is to give the audience a headache right this second. Upon arriving in the rural parts of Louisiana, they meet the friendly Sheriff Sabin (Donal Logue), and the considerably less-friendly Dennis (Chris Carmack), Sara's ex, and his colorful friend from the cast of Deliverance, Red (Joshua Leonard). Incidentally, we'll learn about midway through that Sara stopped talking to Dennis after an incident when he, angry that she was leaving for college, was prepared to let her drown during a diving trip, and that the reason she stopped talking was because she felt guilty for accidentally whacking his face with an outboard motor while making her escape. It's bad enough that she doesn't stop to think that maybe just maybe Dennis is a fucking psychopath; when she tells this story to Nick, it doesn't seem to register with him either, and so both of them are stunned - stunned! - when Dennis turns out to be the kind of person who would deliberately seed the lake with God knows how many specimens of shark, so that he and Red can make a fortune filming the deaths of various swimmers and sell them to all the folks whose big problem with Discovery Channel's Shark Week is the lack of graphic onscreen deaths.

Have I spoiled it? What the fuck ever. And let's just take a glance at that again: killer rednecks seeding Lake Pontchartrain with a menagerie of sharks, to kill tourists and sell snuff films. Honestly, the part where this is all a get-rich-quick scheme strikes me as depressingly plausible, but everything else is jaw-dropping. Where did they get the sharks? and how can so many species from so many different regions of the oceans all exist in the same body of water? and what on Earth must this be doing to the local ecosystem? and how is it even remotely possible, with at least 46 species represented in the lake, more than one specimen of at least a few of those species, that this hasn't already become a major national incident? I know, looking for story logic in a movie called Shark Night 3D, but there's the kind of logic violations that a movie earns, and the kind it doesn't (for example, the fact that there is no LAN line in the giant mansion on the lake? That's earned, the plot needs it in order to function). And there simply has to be a less-contrived way for the sharks to end up in the lake - the villains even propose one, before we know that they are villains. Because really, get the sharks in the lake, get the Expendable Meat in the lake and that's all you need. Human villains behind it all is just plain unnecessary at that point.

At any rate, the PG-13 rating means that the biggest draws of a film like this (naked breasts, geysers of blood, ideally both at the same time) are nowhere in evidence, and Ellis and his crew exhibit only the shakiest understanding of basic film grammar: a worse-edited film I haven't seen this year. The only real plus is that the CGI sharks, though we don't see them nearly often enough until about the last third, are more decent than one would readily expect for a film of this budgetary percentile. And the film uses 3-D better than usual, even for a shot-in-3-D movie, although it's not tacky enough to be disreputable fun, and not even vaguely ambitious enough to be impressive; by saying it's better than average, I suspect I'm saying more about the average than I am about Shark Night 3D.

There is one way in which the film captures my attention and even, in a minor way, my admiration. After so many years of the neo-grind house revival that has resulted in films like Machete and Drive Angry and Hobo with a Shotgun just within the last twelve months, there's been one genre of grind house cinema that, to my uncertain knowledge, has been left predominately untapped: the hicksploitation film, a robust subgenre of regional filmmaking that followed the adventures of wildly caricatured rednecks in their attempts to kill (and frequently, cannibalise) city folks. House of 1000 Corpses and the I Spit On Your Grave remake probably come closest of everything I can name, but now we have our first true-blue neo-hicksploitation picture. And it's a timid PG-13 slasher wannabe. Congratulations to writers Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg, I guess. Please don't do it again.