Tara Reid, Ian Ziering, John Heard, Cassie Scerbo, Jaason Simmons
(The Asylum; premiere on SyFy Channel: 11 Jul 2013; 2013)
Sometimes, inspiration trumps execution. In other instances, nothing could top the original concept. Take a couple of the reigning crap cult classics - Tommy Wiseau’s The Room and James Nguyen’s Birdemic: Shock and Terror. In the case of the first film, an addled auteur with as much ability as ambition (read: NONE!) crafted the most horrendous example of a romantic drama ever. No matter what he did behind the lens (and in front of it, God help us), he could never match the movie he was making in this head. The same goes for the aforementioned Hitchcock rip-off. Granted, the winged terror ends up being nothing more than poorly photoshopped gifs on top of terribly shot live action footage, but Nguyen is clearly making the experience he wants, professionalism and watchability be damned.
Which brings us to Sharknado, the latest entry in Syfy’s senseless watering down of genre entertainment. Manufactured by those Kings of the Mockbuster, The Asylum, and featuring a cast who’d be considered has-beens if anyone actually remembered who they were in the first place, this is a brilliant idea bafflingly executed. It’s over the top, drop dead clever in parts, and pathetically underdeveloped in others. Granted, we are talking about a disaster epic where a Pacific coast hurricane traps hundreds of hungry maneaters into its spin-off tornados, the better to chew up and spit out the population of Los Angeles, but what could have been a fantastically cheesy exercise in camp loses its bearings on the way to weirdness.
We open on a fishing boat killing sharks for their valuable body parts. A black market business deal goes wrong and suddenly everyone on board is Jaws jelly. We then switch over to a former surfing champ turned beach bum and bar owner named - wait for it - Fin (Ian Ziering), who enjoys hanging ten and breaking hearts, specifically, the overprotective puppy dog desires of young bartender Nova (Cassie Scerbo). While she fights off the advances of resident drunk George (John Heard), she matches wits with an Aussie buddy of Fin’s, Baz (Jaason Simmons). Eventually, the aforementioned storm strikes LA, flooding the streets and sending sharks streaming into the populace. As they eat their way through the city of Angels, Fin tries to rescue his ex-wife (Tara Reid), his disinterested daughter (Aubrey Peeples), and his strong willed son (Chuck Hittinger).
Oh yes, and toward the end, three waterspouts form over the water, eventually touching down on land. Inside each one? Hundreds of hungry killing machines.
It’s all there in the premise: the possibilities; the particulars; the problems. How is any movie which promises a last act apocalypse where it literally rains hammerheads from the sky ever going to live up to said pledge? Even worse, how is it going to keep us engaged throughout the preceding 80 some minutes? The answer is similar to the strategies of both The Room and Birdemic - baffle them with batshit. Unfortunately, writer Thunder Levin and director Anthony Ferrante forgot to load up on guano before heading to the film set. The opening does deliver - at least, a bit, and the ending is so unhinged and insane that it feels like deranged Discovery Channel marketers made it up for their annual celebration of all things aquatic. There’s even a sequence where an amusement park is dismantled by high winds and equally baked computer artists.
What we don’t want, however, and what Sharknado surely doesn’t need are two terrible scenes which filet the film like a bounty of beached cod. The first takes place after Fin and his pals go after his ex and his kids. They all end up in a house that is overtaken by water, and then sharks, and yet none of it is fun or fascinating. By the seventh shot of a CG animal making its way through a fake flooded living room, we’re bored. Even worse, actresses (which is a questionable identifying marker here) Reid and Peeples play their reactions like they were cast in The Barely Walking Dead. They’re zombies dead onscreen.
Then there is the saving of a school bus full of kids along with their bloated dork driver. The establishing shots indicate that the vehicle is surrounded by shark-infested waters on all sides. The minute Ian Ziering suits up to repel off an overpass to save everyone, you can clearly see the streets are dry. As he gets closer, there’s the massive body of water and the monstrous menace. Another long shot, and it’s business in usual in La-La land. Granted, we expect continuity errors, illogical circumstance, and an overall lack of realism, but the cheapness of the production belies the desires of those making the creative decisions. Even the destruction of the Hollywood sign doesn’t help.
At least, during the finale, we get sharks falling from the sky like so much man-eating hail, Ziering wielding a chainsaw, Leatherface style (dibs on the spin-off, California Chainsaw Shark Massacre) and a surreal sequence where a helicopter flies “near” the three tornados, dropping homemade propane “bombs” in to the rotation to break up the whole ‘cold air meeting hot air’ dynamic. Huh? Exactly. It’s here where Sharknado shines, as well as in a masterful moment where Nova explains her dislike for the beasties in a speech that would make Quint and his whole Indianapolis anecdote proud. In fact, when this film riffs on Jaws and other man vs. sea creature conceits, it works. When it tries to offer up drama and human emotion, it’s laughably bad.
It’s unfortunate, really. Sharkando could have been Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus good, a brain-frying festival of cinematic atrocities force fed through a satiric sieve and given just enough CG polish to keep us from complaining. It could also have acknowledged its outright awfulness and just kept plugging away. Instead, it seems to want to have its kitschy cake and swallow it whole, too. Perhaps when it finally makes its way to DVD, excised blood and gore reinserted and intact, it will make more sense, either as a lark, a novelty, or a knowing lampoon. As it stands, Sharknado is decent but dumb, never wicked enough to have us winking along with it, never bonkers enough to have us offering up the whole “so bad, it’s good” ideal. Unlike The Room or Birdemic, it’s all attempt and very little follow through.