In 27 years of watching movies, I’ve never been so certain I was watching a dream sequence as I was during the opening scene of Sharknado 2. It had every seeming stylistic hint—a jumpy Fin (Ian Ziering) and his wife April (Tara Reid) flying into New York on a dark and stormy night, as Fin obsesses about his apparent shark-phobia and splashes cold water on his face in the airplane bathroom. Incredibly blatant parodies of The Twilight Zone as Ziering proclaims that he sees a shark outside “on the wing of the plane!” A cameo and clever little Airplane! reference with the casting of Robert Hays as the jet captain. And the loss of a major character’s ENTIRE HAND in the mouth of a shark. All of this happens within the first five minutes.
So yeah, I hope you can forgive me for fully expecting the sequence to end with Fin jerking awake in bed, traumatized by his previous experience battling shark-filled weather systems in Los Angeles. But no! As it turns out, the opening is all too gloriously real, and it sets the tone for a film that, like its predecessor, is just fun enough to make for an enjoyable viewing experience. This version of the age-old sharknado film subgenre raises the stakes, cranks up the already sky-high ridiculosity factor by a few notches and will make viewers groan both in pain and pleasure, depending almost entirely on their cheese tolerance.
As it turns out, the events of the previous film have made Fin and his family both pariahs and semi-unwilling celebrities. After Tara Reid’s character writes a book with the hilariously long title “How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Natural Disasters: Fight Back When Monsters and Mother Nature Attack,” the couple sets off on a media tour in New York, where they also hope to reconnect with Fin’s sister (Kari Wuhrer), her husband (Sugar Ray singer Mark McGrath) and their kids. These people should henceforth be referred to as “shark bait,” as they have no discernible purpose or impact on the story. Fin also meets up with childhood friend Skye, played by a nearly unrecognizable post-plastic surgery Vivica A. Fox, who looks vaguely like someone stuck a bicycle pump in her mouth and inflated her to 30 PSI.
Short story made even shorter, there’s another shark storm headed for Manhattan for whatever reason. The movie doesn’t bother with why, and it doesn’t matter. Despite the fact that the L.A. incident is famous, and despite the fact that Fin has just successfully landed a jet plane filled with chunks of dead sharks, no one believes him that the massive storm is on the way, because this is an Asylum movie, and that’s the way these things go. What follows is pretty rote stuff: Characters zipping around the city trying to gather up their lost family members, and then eventually an attempt to physically destroy the converging sharknados.
What really matters is whether the film can recapture even a shred of the careless disregard the last one had for logic and remain shamelessly fun, and the answer is … sort of. It panders even more than the first, especially in the celebrity cameo department. The film is absolutely studded with random, B-list appearances: Kelly Osbourne, Kelly Oxford, Billy Ray Cyrus, Downtown Julie Brown, Sandra Denton, Tiffany Shepis, Judd Hirsch, Judah Friedlander, Richard Kind, Perez Hilton, Al Roker, Matt Lauer, Kelly Ripa, Michael Strahan, Biz Markie and Kurt Angle are just scratching the surface. I’m fairly certain I saw Wil Wheaton being eaten in a quick shot as well, but by that point there’s a good chance I was simply hallucinating, high on a combination of atrocious CGI and shark-related puns.
The film is actually at its worst whenever it’s making hammy references to its own first installment. If you’ve seen that movie, it can be assumed you remember the most memorable bits, like Fin chainsawing his way out of a shark after being swallowed whole. We don’t need to see that again, nor do we need to see what Sharknado 2 seems to believe are clever little references to the first movie’s success. This is “bad tacky,” as it is when Fin leaps over a few prowling Great Whites and his family comments that he’s “jumped the shark.”
Thankfully, though, there’s a generous helping of “good tacky” in there as well, especially as the film builds to its climax. Clambering on top of a fire truck with his chainsaw, Fin rallies the random New Yorkers with an inspiring speech: “Yes, they’re sharks, and they’re scary, and no one wants to get eaten.” Soon enough, the population of the city is fighting back, grabbing ubiquitous assault rifles out of the trunks of their cars and dumping loads of revving chainsaws into the tornadoes in an effort to chop the sharks to pieces. Now that’s stupidity with conviction.
It seems quite unlikely that Sharknado 2: The Second One will manage to replicate the social media buzz of the first film when it premieres on Syfy July 30, nor will it likely attain the 82% fresh rating the first film still enjoys on Rotten Tomatoes. But for the most part, it’s a serviceable sequel that tackles a difficult task as best it can by making a film that is several levels more absurd than the first. Expect the principle of diminishing returns to make its presence harshly felt in the already-announced third sequel, which I can only assume will be titled Sharknado 3: Sharknado Visits Beautiful Oslo, Norway or possibly Sharknado 3: IN SPACE.
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Writer: Thunder Levin
Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Vivica A. Fox, Kari Wuhrer, Mark McGrath
Release Date: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 (Syfy)