(On TV, September 2016) I lasted longer than most, but with Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens I’ve reached the end of the joke as far as the Sharknado series is concerned. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise: it’s in the nature of series to last as long as they don’t dip below a certain quality threshold, even if Sharknado’s said threshold was comfortably lower than most. Here, even the forgiving standards of the series aren’t even met, jumping from Las Vegas to Niagara Falls with plenty of dumb pit stops along the way. The plot’s incoherence seems worse than ever, the celebrity cameos are more intrusive (especially if you’re not a reality TV aficionado), and the low-budget aesthetics feel even cheaper than usual. (Take, for instance, the Gary Busey scenes, obviously filmed away from the rest of the cast even when they’re supposed to be in the same room!) The panache of the first film has degenerated into noisy “-nado” nonsense that the low budget can’t properly execute, and there’s very little joy left to the result. The dumbness has been pushed far enough to go from charm to irritation. Hopefully everyone involved in the series, including stalwart protagonist Ian Ziering, are seeing the writing on the wall as well and should quit. I won’t say “never ever again”, because I may be bored next summer with nothing but Sharknado 5 on the DVR, but making it through Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens was annoying enough that I’m not exactly holding my breath until the next.
(On TV, August 2015) The problem with self-aware trash cinema is that it’s frankly still trash cinema. Third in a series meant to be mocked, Sharknado 3 knows the routine by now, and keeps escalating the craziness into orbit. (This is not a figure of speech.) Things start with such a full-tilt roar even before the opening credits, as sharks rain down on Washington and a crazy White House sequence ensue, that it’s hard to figure out how the film will top its own opening. But after a slower first hour or so, things get crazy once again toward the end, delivering a big bang of a conclusion. I’m not sure how they’ll top that in the already-announced Sharknado 4, but that’s part of the fun. In the meantime, there are plenty of celebrity cameos, over the-top set-pieces, CGI sharks eating bystanders in equally-CGI bursts of blood. Tara Reid and Ian Ziering know the routine as well, and work through their lines without breaking up. (This being said, Cassie Scerbo steals most of her scenes.) If nothing else, Sharknado 3 delivers on the promises made by its previous instalments, and little more should be said. Still, it’s still trash cinema, and I can’t help but wonder if my time wouldn’t have been best spent watching something else. But who am I kidding –I’m already planning forward to the sequel.
(On Cable TV, August 2014) There’s really no point in trying to exert critical judgement on a self-consciously camp film such as Sharknado 2: Based on the unexpected success of the first film, this sequel delivers more of the same with even less regard toward basic believability. It’s its own self-aware parody, making the wisecracks for its viewers in an effort to distance itself from accountability. So what’s left to say? The breathless plot outline (“Sharknado strikes New York!”) is enough to entice viewers, while the low budget speaks for itself. There are more celebrity cameos than anyone but a pop-culture junkie can identify (to the point of thinking “this guy must be a celebrity of some sort, otherwise the scene makes no sense”) and Sharknado 2 definitely is on to its own joke to the point of being its own parody. Nit-picking the film is useless, from the ludicrous book-signing technique to the silliness of cleaving sharks in mid-air with a chainsaw: all of this is expected, probably even intentional. Surprisingly enough, the film comes together a bit more satisfyingly than the original (which had a flat third quarter) and is slightly better-directed as well. Still, this really isn’t a good film, and there’s something almost impure in films designed to be bad. Suffice to say that Sharknado 2 meets expectations, and aren’t most movies really just aiming to do that?
(On Cable TV, July 2013) I’m strangely conflicted about films that aim to be as ludicrously awful as possible. Shouldn’t there be a limit to the amount of intentionally-bad filmmaking we subject ourselves? Should we consider ourselves on holidays from conventional criticism when watching intended tripe? Are we sending the wrong message to producers by supporting such abominations? Suffice to say that in July 2013, SyFy-original TV movie Sharknado became a minor Internet phenomenon, celebrated as much for its insane premise (a tornado strikes Los Angeles… throwing sharks!) as for the cheapness of its execution. Twitter went wild for #sharknado and the intensity of the frenzy made it easy to focus on the film-as-summer-phenomenon rather than the film as itself. What many casual observers may not have known is that made-for-SyFy original movies are usually terrible, and just as often ludicrously high-concept (Sharktopus, anyone?) Compared to those low-budget geeksploitation films, Sharknado actually doesn’t fare too badly: It’s terribly made, incompetently scripted and insultingly paced, but it has some panache when it comes to insane set-pieces, features reasonably competent actors, and at least shows us something we haven’t seen before. (For truly dire and joyless films, look elsewhere in SyFy “catastrophe SF” roster) Still, it’s practically impossible to appreciate Sharknado with a straight face, leading anyone to wonder once again: What’s the point of this? At which point has anyone seen enough good movies to revel in bad ones? Grump, grump.