Written by: Matt Yamashita
Directed by: Kevin O'Neill
Starring: Robert Carradine, Akari Endo, and Tony Evangelista
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"When I found Sharktopus, I knew it was my chance to do real science."
There’s a temptation to lump Roger Corman in with The Asylum when it comes to his latest rash of creature features. Not only are both notorious penny pinchers and frequent cohorts of the SyFy Channel, but each have had a hand in this particular trend of grafting man-eating predators to other forces of nature, not unlike fast food chains who seem committed to seeing what would happen if every item on their menus made babies with pretzel and bacon. It’s an easy assumption and association to make and perhaps even a pretty fair one. I’ll stop just short of that, though, if only because it seems like Corman’s trying to do more than garner Twitter mentions. In many respects, an effort like Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda isn’t too far removed from the likes of some of the Asylum’s more nefarious output, but it feels like a harmless goof.
A sequel to both Sharktopus and Piranhaconda, this showdown involves more science gone awry, as Dr. Rico Symes (Robert Carradine) has crafted the latest predatory super-weapon by splicing together DNA strands from a pterodactyl and barracudas. During a routine (well, “routine”) dry run, the creature goes rogue after being hijacked by a terrorist. With no other course of action, he and his bodyguard (Rib Hillis) decide to track down the Sharktopus’s surviving offspring, which has found sanctuary at a nearby aquarium. After kidnapping it from its shelter, Symes outfits the beast with a neurological transmitter to give Sharktopus a one-track mind: seek and destroy the Pteracuda.
Given the title, Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda obviously doubles down on the creature-based insanity (and inanity) of recent years, only it’s done on such a small budget that you can’t have as much fun with it as you’d like, sort of like a kid in a sandbox needing to fill in the blanks with his imagination. Granted, the effects are much better than the likes of most Asylum offerings and even approach being passable during a few fleeting moments. Still, there’s just no weight to the creatures. At no point do they actually feel like they’re in the movie—they’re cartoon intrusions at best, and, even when they’re slugging it out (and they do so a good three or four times, so the movie at least delivers its title), it has all of the gravitas or appeal of a cut-scene from a bad video game that’s at least a few years old.
Starting with the effects and placing so much stock in them usually seems counterintuitive, but what else could be the chief appeal of something called Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda? Something related to the titular monsters needs to work, whether it’s their clashes or their gruesome rampages on unsuspecting bystanders. While both are abundant, neither is all that effective. Between the two monsters, the film racks up an impressive body count (with an inordinate amount of decapitations), only it’s not as great as the ample bloodshed should entail. Once in a while, a practical effect slips delightfully slips through the cracks; that this is the exception rather than the rule is a perpetual disappointment with the genre these days. Whatever the opposite of a Golden Age is, we’re living in it for creature features, which have become the butt of so many cheap jokes. With the rise of Pacific Rim and Godzilla, here’s hoping better days are ahead (I can’t fathom why anyone would want to watch SyFy variations on this theme rather than the real deals).
For now, though, we’re overrun with pale imitators that leave us looking for something—anything—to make them worthwhile beyond the absurd concepts and the glib, fit-for-mockery approach (if the latter is even all that appealing—I’m not sure it is). Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda offers a few delights, such as Carradine’s taking up the family B-movie mantle and delivering a performance that borders on being so completely disconnected and disinterested that it almost seems a little charming. Evil has rarely seemed so banal, as this mad scientist—who goes to ruthless lengths, including kidnapping at gunpoint—carries on with a pleasant, Midwestern lilt and never seems to be too fussed about anything. When he warns folks that the hijacked Pteracuda might start targeting a local nuclear power plant, he might as well be shrugging his shoulders. Other oddball flourishes, like Conan O’Brien’s bizarre cameo, fall flat and reek of desperation—it’s more a play out of The Asylum playbook. For the most part, Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda treads that fine line of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, but O’Brien’s over-the-top bit all but screams “how stupid is this shit?”
At least those bursts are kept to a minimum—again, Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda is a mostly earnest shot at delivering monster movie carnage. Watching so many of these films in bunches makes it especially tempting to write them all off as being cut from the same cheap cloth, but sifting through them reveals subtle gradations of tolerability depending on how much disdain the filmmakers show towards their concept (not to mention their audience). With Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda, you faintly sense that Corman touch in the film’s relentless commitment to cheap thrills and in its reckless abandon—it’s actually occasionally fun and feels like a valiant effort rather than manufactured bullshit. Still, you kind of wish Corman hadn’t resigned himself to essentially parodying himself—it feels like every film bearing his name is more outlandish and wackier than the one before, and they quickly slip beyond the reach of the hired guns tasked with wrangling them down. Admittedly, it’s been more than a few decades since Corman felt completely committed to delivering films that could live up to even his pre-90s legacy (let alone his legendary AIP run), but, just once, you wish he’d remind us all why they call him the “King of the Bs.” At this point, he’s just barely separating himself from the hive. Rent it!
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