Jaws in triplicate and with brains — that’s the hook behind this horror-adventure vehicle that packs a few good thrills and sleek FX behind its nonsensical premise. Director Renny Harlin, back from the dead after the abysmal Cutthroat Island, places his cast of chum on a techno-cool atoll called Aquatica. The rig is an isolated research facility where the beautiful and brainy Saffron Burrows (The Loss of Sexual Innocence) enlarges the cerebellums of three sharks in search of an Alzheimer’s cure. After one of the lab sharks gets loose, the man with the money, Samuel Jackson, drops in on the clam shack to see how his dollars are working. A storm cripples the structure and everyone sits around waiting to become shark hors d’oeuvres.
The battery of piquant characters includes Stellan Skarsgård as the head scientist with a perilous desire to smoke and Michael Rapaport as the nervous technician. As the shark handler, up-and-comer Thomas Jane is an intriguing Mel Gibson-esque variation on Kevin Costner’s mariner from Water World; Burrows is in fine form doing Sigourney Weaver’s Alien bit in her undies; and rapper turned actor L.L. Cool J plays the preachy chef with enough mess-hall ingenuity to take on the watery wolves.
Harlin does keep the suspense strung tight, but the über-sharks’ omnipotence borders on cheesy, unintentional camp — though not to the degree of Jaws author Peter Benchley’s made-for-TV flop, Creature. If you want shark-with-smarts guffaws, try to catch the mid-’70s Saturday Night Live skit “Land Shark.”