Xavier Samuel in “Bait”

With a healthy sense of irony compensating for some garbled plotting and hit-and-miss f/x, this "Bait" should really hook fans in ancillary.

A plucky Pomeranian survives a 12-foot great white in the emotional high point of Kimble Rendall’s cheerfully grisly shark thriller “Bait.” That’s a nifty metaphor for how this likable trash occasionally outsmarts more moneyed Hollywood fish features, as well as an indication of precisely the level of human investment to be found in the shoddy script, which finds the toothy beast prowling the aisles of a tsunami-drowned Australian supermarket. With a healthy sense of irony compensating for some garbled plotting and hit-and-miss f/x, this “Bait” should really hook fans in ancillary, where the rudimentary 3D won’t be too sorely missed.

Directed by Kimble Rendall. Screenplay, Russell Mulcahy, John Kim. Camera (color, widescreen, 3D), Ross Emery; editor, Rodrigo Balart; music, Joe Ng, Alex Oh; production designer, Nicholas McCallum; art director, Jen O’Connell; costume designer, Phill Eagles; sound (Dolby Digital), Robert Mackenzie; makeup effects and shark designer, Steven Boyle; visual effects supervisor, Mark Varisco; line producer, Sharon Miller; associate producers, Kirsten Elms, Jeffrey Schenk; assistant director, Jamie Crooks; casting, Matthew Lessall, Ben Parkinson. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Aug 28, 2012. Running time: 93 MIN.

The presence of seasoned director Russell Mulcahy as co-writer and executive producer will be taken as a good omen by B-movie aficionados: Before creating the “Highlander” franchise, he made his name in 1984 with cult killer-pig movie “Razorback.” Rendall isn’t as accomplished a stylist as Mulcahy, but the compatriots share a Down Under pragmatism that isn’t to be found in, say, the recent “Piranha” retreads. Though not averse to some goofing around (auds should merrily laugh along when sharks lunge directly at the screen), “Bait” isn’t as overtly campy as those watery 3D hits. At least half the time, the pic functions as a prosaically effective suspense exercise, though an early nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is an ambitious hat-tip.

Pre-credits prologue introduces blandly agreeable hero Josh (“Twilight” alum Xavier Samuel), a lifeguard whose plans to emigrate to Singapore with g.f. Tina (Sharni Vinson) are put on ice when his close colleague is killed in a shark attack. One year later, Josh, now single and in a tailspin, is working in a supermarket — where, one fateful day, Tina turns up with a new partner just as armed robbers (“Nip/Tuck” star Julian McMahon among them) hit the store.

Cue a standoff that’s needlessly convoluted as a mere pretext for getting everyone in the same building before an unforeseen (and distinctly unconvincing) tidal wave hits, trapping them all on the shop floor with the water rising … and a hungry visitor swept in from the deep. Down in the waterlogged basement, the plight of a dim, lapdog-toting couple stranded in their car provides comic relief in a film that doesn’t want for drollness.

From here on out, it’s really just a matter of Rendall finding increasingly inventive ways to feed his ensemble to the great white. Performances and characterizations are sufficiently undistinguished that viewers won’t have any strong feelings about the pecking order, though it’s a given that murderous gunman Kirby (Dan Wyllie) is granted the most gleefully nasty death of all. Meanwhile, it turns out that there’s nothing like a little macropredatory danger to put the spark back in Josh and Tina’s relationship.

Tech credits are as mismatched as our sodden band of survivors: Ross Emery’s suitably murky lensing makes good on the tight production design necessitated by both premise and budget, but isn’t particularly well served by the crude finish of the 3D conversion. Digital effects aim for endearing hokiness; makeup whiz Steven Boyle’s prosthetics and shark designs are rather more artful. The most unsubtle soundtrack cue of many arrives in the closing credits, as Rendall’s own band, the Slice, contributes an ominous rock cover of – what else? – “Mack the Knife.”

Bait

Australia-Singapore

Production

A Screen Australia, Media Development Authority of Singapore presentation of an Darclight, Blackmagic Design production, in association with Pictures in Paradise, Story Bridge Films, Screen Queensland, Yunnan Film Group, Enlight Pictures. Produced by Gary Hamilton, Todd Fellman, Peter Barber. Executive producers, Chris Brown, Ian Maycock, Mike Gabrawy, Ying Ye, Russell Mulcahy. Co-producer, Paul Stevens. Co-executive producers, Ian Gibbins, Martin Fabinyi, Victor Syrmis, Richard Stewart, Grant Bradley, Dale Bradley, Steve Wilkinson, Stuart Sutherland, Jon Scanlon.

With

Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Sharni Vinson, Phoebe Tonkin, Alex Russell, Dan Wyllie, Cariba Heine, Lincoln Lewis, Adrian Pang, Martin Sacks, Alice Parkinson, Qi Yuwu, Richard Brancatisano.

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