Yup. Another Netflix offering, that I would never be bothered seeing otherwise. But a boring night with nothing to do did indeed lead me to Sharknado, the most talked about “bad” movie of this year.
I haven’t talked about The Asylum or my opinions of them on this blog before. You can’t but appreciate their business model, which seems to be remarkably successful for them, but it’s a real case of 50/50 for me. The rip-off half of their operation is fairly reprehensible, piggy-backing on the promotional effort of better movies by making a very cheap and atrocious copy, the kind of thing I can never condone.
But the other half, that of the low grade monster movie, well, I can’t judge that too harshly as a policy. If there is a market for Crocasaurus vs Mega-Octopus or whatever, then so be it. I can’t claim to have ever sat through an entire Asylum movie. Until now.
Sharknado got a lot of attention when it was first screened, generally described as the apex of the kind of thing that The Asylum offers: the insane realm of “so bad, its good”, movies that are made with little budget, poor actors, worse scriptwriters, stingy CGI and directing straight out of the school of Tommy Wiseau. I get the sense that, for a while at least, The Asylum tried to make watchable products, but then leaped headfirst into the business of aiming for “so bad, it’s good”, trying to corner that market by perfecting a design whereby the actual goal was to make something that is bad, so terrible that it just has to be seen, like passing a car crash on the motorway. Sharknado is marketed as the masterpiece of this effort.
It would be pointless to approach something like Sharknado with anything resembling genuine appraisal. The creators of Sharknado are not trying to make a good movie. They are trying to make something that will get the audience laughing through its sheer ridiculousness. So, I decided to approach Sharknado as if it was a comedy, something that was trying to make me laugh, and rate it on that basis.
A once in a lifetime hurricane approaches the California coastline, sucking up every species of shark that you can imagine. When it hits Los Angeles, bloodthirsty man-eaters swim the flooded streets, making escape from the oncoming tide a deadly prospect. Enter Fin Shepherd (Ian Ziering), bar owner and leader of a motley crew of people trying to get out of the city alive. There’s the Lancer best friend (Jaason Simmons), the quasi love interest (Cassie Scerbo) and the grouchy old timer (John Heard). Aside from dealing with maritime threat, Fin must also save his ex-wife April (Tara Reid) and his children.
So, of course, the story is objectively terrible, in just about every way. Leaving aside the nonsensical nature of the general crux – its best to treat this like a cartoon someone decided to make live-action I find – Sharknado just isn’t cutting it the way that he has to. It’s bad, but not the required level of bad.
We open with a pointless and derivative scene of some shark fishers on a boat and a shoot out with some Asian guy, before a shark hits the deck and eats a guy really, really fast. It’s the start of several illusions to Jaws, with no attempt at subtle inspiration. Of course, this opening lacked any kind of tension or humour, but more disappointingly had no impact on the plot. But it doesn’t matter, we are moving on.
Because now we’re in sunny LA, which you’ll know because of the drawn out establishing shots of Fin and his best friend having fun times surfing and being best pals. Still a lack of jokes thus far, though no shortage of bad acting and scripting. Meanwhile, our lead actress gets fondled in a bar by an old man, which is just the best character development possible for the two of them. Did you know the old man, John Heard, was a major player in an episode of BSG? Just thought I’d drop that in there.
Anyway, having taken the time to establish a cute Asian girl, Sharknado kills her off first in a tide of advancing sharks, while Fin and previously mentioned best friend flounder about trying to look like action heroes. And this is when the laughter started, at least for me. It wasn’t just the poorly cut together scenes in the water, the all too obvious efforts to rip-off the famous close in camera shot of Amity Island in Jaws. It was the sheer OTT hysteria of the people on the beach, who hear “shark, shark”, and start running away. Even though they’re already on land.
This leads to the funniest moment of the whole story, as some guy gets shunted off a stairs in the stampede, the kind of cutaway visual insanity that made me burst out laughing. For at least that one shining moment, Sharknado hit the parody button dead on, as shark hysteria swept the screen.
Unfortunately, it just got worse from then on out. The people of LA react alarmingly causal about the incoming hurricane, even after sharks start landing around them. It’s around this point that Sharknado’s recurring thing – sharks suddenly appearing “by surprise” – begins, but it only really works for humours sake twice or so. Those are funny moments, the sheer surreal quality of random sharks interjecting on other scenes, but it’s a real plot device of diminishing returns. Still funny when the first shark burst into the bar though, like the director just said “Screw it, all this basic set-up is taking too long, just get a shark in there.”
From there, the laughs are shock value related and little else, unless you count the appalling production values and performances, which certainly raise a titter now and then. The blood and gore, of the cheapest kind, is slung about with abandon, as sharks the size of the movie’s plot holes start roaming random streets and sewers of LA, with one hilarious moment taken to show a shark eating a duck for some reason.
And in the best traditions of Jaws 4: The Revenge, these are super smart sharks, who’ll hunt in packs, refuse to die, and somehow manage to get inside people’s houses for awkward fight scenes with the main characters. It’s that total randomness and idea that anything goes that is supposed to make Sharknado the enthralling experience that The Asylum clearly want it to be, but as before, it’s a case of diminishing returns. They can only up the stakes so much, and by the time they’re sending a helicopter at the titular cyclone featuring sharks, you’ll have long since become numb to the surrealist side of the movie. It’s no longer laugh worthy, and like a tired comedian whose used up all of his best material in the first five minutes of the show, Sharknado is just shuffling awkwardly on stage for most of the last half. The laughs just don’t come.
It’s a remarkably tedious film, given all of the “hype”, for so much of its running time, featuring padded out rescue scenes, random sequences of exposition and just a whole lot of amateur filmmaking without much to redeem it. You’re begging for some shark puns or something by the end, because once they hit the half way mark and leave Tara Reid’s house, the humour has stopped in favour of them actually trying to make an actual shark movie with attempted character development and everything.
Sharknado has a basic three act structure – the production team at least gets that right – and the story progresses with a different goal in each act. First is just escape from the bar and the initial shark attacks. All fine and dandy, a staple of any horror movie. Then another normal goal, that of securing the safety of loved ones and other, aright so far.
And then the real zaniness sets in, as this ragtag group of civilians decided to arm up and bomb some cyclones filled with sharks, a premise so illogical that you really can’t help but facepalm. It’s not humour though, because The Asylum actually seems to be actually trying – very poorly, but actually trying – in the last 40 minutes or so. It’s such bad material though that the effort simply creates something that is both terrible and unfunny. You have an awful romantic sub-plot that gets horribly warped towards the conclusion, you have this family drama that is just awkward and ineffective (though it has one of the movies best moments, in the house) and just cookie-cutter character development scenes, where characters just outline their feelings and backstories. There is great potential here for many laughs, out loud, but Sharknado just can’t seem to decide if it wants to just play for laughs or pretend that it’s serious. It’s a feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it is undeniable that the final sections of this movie are remarkably tedious for the way that it is marketed. Just plain bad.
It’s such a hard target to hit. Compare to The Room. That was a movie that was, despite any protestations its creator might make today, made with a serious intent. It was supposed to be a drama. But the script, performances and visual choices were so poor that it made the whole attempt laughable, enjoyably so, because it was started as a legitimate attempt to make a good movie. Sharknado, probably because it’s actively trying to capture that feeling, just misses it for the most part.
What is there to say about the acting? Everyone involved is terrible, though I don’t think it is deliberately so: they just aren’t good actors. Tara Reid, as washed up an actress as you could probably find in the dregs of Hollywood, is the biggest name in the cast, and she’s just in it for a paycheck clearly. No one is funny – that’s left for the premise and some of the more extreme elements – and no one is anywhere near emotive or compelling.
Obviously it is a train wreck on the visual front. From the opening shot of a school of sharks swimming away from a storm, or something, to the final, titular “sharknado”, this film just did the bare minimum, as allowed by its budget. There is multiple overuse of green screen effects, but even they are done in as poor a manner as possible, with no eye for believability or nuance in the visual embedding. What CGI there is, is re-used constantly, and any active CGI models, that is, the sharks themselves, look basic and unimpressive. In terms of camerawork, Sharknado is surprisingly competent, but nothing more.
The script, aside from the general terribleness, does have some funny moments, if only from the overuse of cliché and the word “shark”. “That’s what you get for trying to eat me!” Whoa, that was like Old Faithful!” “We can’t just stand here and let sharks rain down on us!”
Just all that kind of thing. I’ll admit it made me laugh on occasion, other times it was just eye-rolling, like the horrible way they scriptwriters try to ape the famous USS Indianapolis monologue from Jaws late on, or how Tara Reid’s character plants a kiss on Fin’s blood soaked face at the end.
I know that isn’t anything to do with the script, it just popped into my head as a really weird moment.
Musically, it’s a total non-runner. What chords there are seem generic and almost sound library quality, except for some sequences where it evokes the Iron Man soundtrack. A cheap rip-off of the Iron Man soundtrack mind you, but it’s not the worst thing to parrot. The only other thing to mention is the OTT and insane credits song, “The Ballad of Sharknado”, a rather perfect rock attempt to end the whole production, that sounds like it was written, performed and produced in some body’s basement over a half hour period.
Themes? Yeah, not really. Sharknado was an attempt to tap into the culture surrounding “so bad, it’s good”, and that’s about as deep as it gets. Any themes in the work are of the most forced and pointless kind, that require no attempted dissection or analysis.
In conclusion, Sharknado is a disappointment, not because it is a bad movie, but because it isn’t a good bad movie. Trying too hard, and so unimaginatively dull at times, the laughs come mostly in the setting-up period of what plot there and is some of the more random moments. A little better than Movie 43 in producing laughs, but not even as entertaining as the abysmal Zero Dark Thirty, Sharknado can count its lucky stars that it just manages to avoid the lowest spot on my rankings. The Asylum has simply reached a point where they seem to buy into their own press whole heartedly and think they have cracked the code on “good bad”. On this basis, they haven’t, not yet.
(All images are copyright of The Asylum).