Written by: Thunder Levin
Directed by: Anthony C. Ferrante
Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, and John Heard
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"It's a Sharknado!"
More like Sharknadir, am I right? Sorry, I’ve been holding on to that one for a year. Well, actually I’m not that sorry because that sort of comment is the perfect entry point for discussing exactly what’s wrong with Sharknado: it’s seemingly only been engineered in a lab by complete hacks solely to inspire that kind of snarky commentary. The worst kind of "bad movie," Sharknado is the sort of film that’s so aware of its own banality that it expects its audience to mock it in order to provide entertainment. It’s the laziest form of exploitation meant only to anoint Sharknado as a “cult classic” on arrival, which is exactly the opposite of how such canonization works. I really just wish I could shoot it out of a cannon.
As you might expect, the plot’s right there in the title: while there might be some nigh-incoherent prologue involving shark hunters and slimy businessmen engaging in a deal-gone-bad, all you really need to glean from this is the presence of a killer storm that manages to sweep up hundreds of sharks and fling them into Los Angeles. There’s a tornado, there are sharks—there’s your sharknado, and only a dopey bar owner (Ian Ziering), his family, and friends can save the day from this freak weather pattern.
Obviously, I have no issues with a high (and by high, I mean what-the-fuck-were-they-smoking high) concept like Sharknado—I don’t think I would have made it very long in the horror genre if I dismissed every dumb and wacky idea that crosses my path (they’re gonna put snakes on a plane and just call it Snakes on a Plane? Get outta here.) The fault lies not in Sharknado’s existence but in its execution; like a monstrosity that never asked to be born, much less neglected upon its arrival, Sharknado is a pitiful creature with shitty creators. In this case, the role of Dr. Frankenstein is predictably inhabited by The Asylum, the Mockbuster mavens with the vision of Michael Bay and the wallet of Roger Corman. That disparity has defined their output for the past decade, and it’s metastasized to insufferable levels with Sharknado.
In a vacuum, the idea of fusing sharks to tornados feels simultaneously inspired and kind of lazy—you can’t tell if it was dreamed up by madmen or hack movie executives playing a game of high concept darts. Audiences need only spend a few minutes with Sharknado to figure out it’s more like the latter, as it’s easy to imagine that this could have easily been Crocquake or some other ungodly hybrid. It truly doesn’t matter because the effort’s going to be the same no matter what—which is to say, there’s not going to be much at all. Look, I get it—Sharknado just sounds ridiculous, but the problem here is that’s the joke: this is so stupid that why would anyone bother to actually make it good? What no one seemed to consider is that the opposite would actually be funnier: what if someone made a Sharknado movie that truly ripped your face off with an earnest attempt at insane exploitation? That would be a hell of a punchline.
Instead, audiences are forced to make do with terrible, low-grade special effects that have no chance to do the concept any sort of justice, plus a troupe of mostly bored actors who don’t really get it. The few that play it straighter-than-straight and with turbo-charged earnestness provide faint evidence that at least someone is in on the joke, but none of them are the familiar faces (Ziering, Tara Reid, and (gulp) John Heard), all of whom seem to be completely bewildered by what’s going on. Admittedly, this would be forgivable if the proceedings surrounding them were truly as outrageous as the title entails, but it’s mostly the same old dumb shit repeated for 70 minutes: as the group of flood survivors makes its way across Los Angeles, they encounter cartoonish, digital sharks that swoop into the frame to cause some threadbare carnage.
Of course, the objection here is that it’s supposed to look cheap and terrible—that’s the joke. It’s also the problem because it’s not a particularly funny one and relies on its audience to deliver the real punchlines via mockery and irony. Only occasionally does the film itself actually engage its inherent absurdity and go wildly over-the-top, with most of the instances occurring towards the end, when the characters decide to firebomb the tornadoes and wield chainsaws against the sharks, a couple of admittedly inspired bits that might work if Sharknado hadn’t otherwise revealed itself to be an incredible bore. Forget how insane the concept itself is: it takes even more audacity to make something called Sharknado and turn it into totally, dull, ugly, murkily-shot junk whose only purpose is to encourage snark and forced awe.
Obviously, it’s the forced aspect that especially sinks Sharknado; while bad movies are plentiful, there’s an authenticity to the truly terrible ones precisely because they’re thwarted attempts at actual expression. Just about any historically Bad Movie you can imagine—be it Plan 9 or Troll 2 or Doom Asylum—wasn’t explicitly manufactured to coast on its low quality as an excuse. On the other hand, Sharknado is the nadir of the recent preoccupation with artificial badness. The earlier reference to Snakes on a Plane wasn’t random, as that was arguably the alpha point of Hollywood’s realization that it can market purposefully “bad” B-movies. However, that film’s own self-awareness only reached far enough to a tongue-in-cheek approach that sometimes belied the fact that David R. Ellis tried to make the best movie possible about motherfuckin’ snakes on a motherfuckin’ plane. Sharknado can’t nearly claim the same thing—it’s perhaps the first exploitation film that exploits its audience of irony-soaked, above-it-all viewers and expects them to do all of the leg work. Trash it!
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