One of the defining aspects of most direct-to-video movies by American film studio The Asylum is that they take forever to get to the payoff of their (always overambitious) premises. This of course is usually a function of shoestring budgets, leading to endlessly padded second acts full of melodrama and family subplots that leave audiences loudly asking “Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t this a giant monster movie?”
That’s where Sharknado is such a deviation. Beyond possessing the most awesomely bad film title in recent memory, it’s the rare Asylum release that isn’t stingy with its selling point—which is to say, tornados that are filled with sharks. In fact, sharks getting sucked into a watery funnel is literally the first thing the audience sees in Sharknado, and for the next 90 minutes, that’s pretty much all the movie needs to succeed as a source of stupid entertainment. When the film premieres tonight on SyFy, they may even have the birth of a minor cult classic on their hands.
It’s simply a refreshing film from such a predictable studio, one that finally lives up to the fun-factor of a pulpy premise. It takes less than four minutes from the opening credits before the air-propelled sharks are finding their first victims, breaking up a criminal business meeting of shark fin soup dealers (really). Then the storm is ready to move inland, to menace a cast of aging former TV stars with the omnipresent threat of stock footage. Also, Tara Reid is there.
Our hero is a former surfing star played by Ian Ziering of Beverly Hills, 90210 fame. The current Chippendales dancer plays a character named Fin, because this is a movie about sharks, and sharks have fins on them. As is law in Asylum movies, he’s a father with an ex-wife (Reid) and several kids he loves deeply but isn’t really “there for,” presumably because he’s busy being a red-blooded font of manly perfection. Likewise, Reid’s character April already has another new beau, but we don’t quite get to learn if he leans more toward “dirtbag” or “blockhead” before the unstoppable force that is Sharknado disposes of him utterly.
John Heard (of Home Alone) also shows up as a charming comic-relief drunk and regular at Fin’s beachside bar, the kind of likeable fellow who gropes female bartenders in a way that is apparently endearing and not disgusting to those around him. His main target is Nova, the perky young bartender with eyes for Fin, despite the fact that he is more than twice her age. An early shot reveals her terrifying past with sharks, nature’s serial killers, as cartoonish bite scars run up and down her leg. When questioned about the massive scars, she offers “cut myself shaving” as an undeniably plausible excuse.
Once the storm makes landfall, the hurricane promptly converts into a series of massive tornados, as hurricanes are known to do. Each of these roiling vortexes is absolutely chock-full of sharks, packed in with a density far beyond your average sardine can. They dump sharks everywhere, literally everywhere, providing plenty of obstacles for Fin and Co. to circumvent. There are sharks in swimming pools, sharks in living rooms, sharks on city streets, in sewers, and leaping through the air to attack helicopters. It was fortunate for the purposes of the film that every shark in the entirety of the Pacific Ocean happened to be gathered off the California coast at the time of filming.
The movie is profoundly silly and undeniably stupid. Shamelessly dumb humor abounds, some of it apparently shoehorned in during post-production. One particularly galling moment happens in Reid’s house as the characters gaze down into a shark-filled living room, the waters stained red with blood. As they gawk, a disembodied voice drifts in from off-camera: “Looks like it’s that time of the month.” It doesn’t even sound like one of the characters, but apparently someone reviewing the footage decided a menstruation joke was just too good to pass up, context be damned.
As an aside, Reid’s performance has to be mentioned if only because she’s the named actress that SyFy is using to promote the film. Her contribution here is less than negligible, if that’s possible. Often, it doesn’t even seem as if she’s even in the same scene as the other characters. Her defining moment in the film is that she at one point passes a chainsaw to our hero during a climactic shark showdown. She’s not shown immediately after this action, but it’s probably safe to assume she followed it up by staring blankly into the middle distance.
The action, on the other hand, is surprisingly good for an Asylum movie. The CGI sharks are predictably bad, but the practical effects and gore are quite graphic and impactful. The shark attacks are more gruesome and fun to watch than expected. The cast, meanwhile, fights back creatively, using everything from bar stools and pool cues to the aforementioned chainsaw. A plot is eventually formulated to use homemade bombs to somehow disrupt the tornados, in what is no doubt the greatest of many “don’t ask how this is supposed to work” moments.
For what it is, Sharknado does what it’s supposed to do better than almost all of its peers. This is not the kind of movie where any audience member should be walking away having experienced anything other than what he or she expected. It’s called Sharknado. It possesses a theme song that contains the lyrics “Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, run away from the Sharknado.” As far as films about tornados filled with sharks are concerned, that pretty much makes it the gold standard.
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Writer: Thunder Levin
Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Alex Arleo, Cassie Scerbo, John Heard
Release Date: Premieres on SyFy, Thursday, July 11