Making a purposefully bad movie, one that is entertaining due to its own badness, is an extremely difficult thing to pull off. It’s harder than making a good movie. It’s harder than trying to make a good movie and failing at it. It takes the deft touch of a genuinely skilled filmmaker who is willing to simply wallow in the badness WITHOUT winking at the audience to let you know he’s above the joke. If you want to make a bad movie, you’ve legitimately got to make it badly. And that’s not a choice that most “non-bad” directors are able to force themselves to embrace.
Anthony C. Ferrante, the director of all three entries in the Sharknado series, seems to know this. In fact, his understanding of his role seems to have become more clear than ever in the production of Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, which has its world premiere on Syfy tonight. If these films are exercises in poor taste (and they are), he’s discovered new ways in the third entry to trigger that gag reflex, but at the same time has also crafted a more purely entertaining outing here than in the first sequel, Sharknado 2: The Second One.
Both sequels are very different films from the first Sharknado. The first was a paint-by-numbers, shoestring Asylum film that just got lucky, capturing a perfect zeitgeist with an instantly memorable title and poster. Point is, neither Syfy nor The Asylum were able to predict its overnight success. The sequels, on the other hand, come into a post-Sharknado world with tongue planted firmly in cheek and a host of soulless corporate sponsorships, rife with seemingly random “celebrity” cameos. Much in the same way as Jurassic World, though, and honestly with more subtlety at times, Ferrante manages to satirize the corporate whitewashing of his own film. This is handled more ably in Sharknado 3 than it was in Sharknado 2—I suspect because the director feels increasingly secure with a longer leash to do whatever he pleases. And this is for the best.
The film opens with what is almost essentially a bait-and-switch that just serves as a way to cram in more random cameos from people like Lou Ferrigno and the ever-despicable Ann Coulter. Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) is receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in D.C. when another shark storm hits—we know it’s going to in advance because Fin has apparently developed a sixth sense for impending sharktastrophes, saying “I can sense these storms now. These sharks have a scent, and it’s not a pretty one.” It leads to a sequence of Ziering fighting a climactic battle alongside President Mark Cuban in the White House, with sequences that you would swear belongs in the LAST 10 minutes of a movie rather than the first 10. But with that problem dealt with, the story is shipped out of D.C. and onward to the Universal Studios theme parks in Florida, which receive an amusingly ham-handed degree of Comcast-owned product placement.
Fin is inducted into “The Order of the Golden Chainsaw” by President Mark Cuban
Those parks are where we find Fin’s wife April (Tara Reid) and his daughter Claudia, an amusingly recast Ryan Newman who looks nothing like the actress from the first film. You’ve got to love that this is the kind of small detail where they just didn’t care. So this actress has long brown hair instead of blonde hair? Just stick an item in the script about how she’s dyed it because she’s a rebellious teen! Problem solved. Dusts off hands.
A note on Reid, by the way, and I ask this sincerely: Did she suffer some kind of head trauma I don’t know about, sometime in the last decade? There was a time, like say in the Van Wilder era, when Tara Reid successfully reading a line in a semi-convincing fashion wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. But it certainly is now. I don’t know what kind of tragedy she’s suffered, but I could read the line “I’m almost there, Fin. Please be safe, do you hear me?” with far more conviction than she can pull off in 2015. And I am not an actor. My take would be bad. But it would be better than that of Tara Reid, who is mercifully shoved even further into the background in this film than she was in Sharknado 2. The film is better for it, as her contributions almost always seem to straddle the uncanny valley between “fun bad” vs. “bad bad.”
As I said, though, all of the D.C. stuff is essentially a bait and switch—the REAL film is about Fin re-teaming with former waitress Nova (Cassie Scerbo) from the first Sharknado to hunt down and stop the root of coast-wide sharknado activity, all while trying to rendezvous with his family at Universal Studios. It quickly gets to the point—sharks are nature’s demons, and they must be destroyed. “Purge every shark from the ocean for their insolence!” may sound like an overly aggressive solution, but it’s one the characters express constantly. The lack of concern among the writing room for the audience’s opinion is truly an inspiring to behold—I can’t stress enough that this movie just doesn’t give a fuck, and more often than not in a way that is fun rather than overtly frustrating.
By the end, the full-on self-parody begins to remind one of modern genre spoof comedies in the vein of FDR: American Badass, as all pretenses toward a scientifically rational conclusion are abandoned. It’s the perfect time to send Fin Shepard into space to disrupt shark weather patterns, while a ‘Merica-praising country song intones: “There comes a time when you’ve got to take a stand, roll up your sleeves and be a man.” Go, Fin Shepard, American hero! Punch nature square in its stuck-up face!
If Sharknado 2 was the sort of thing you legitimately enjoyed, then Sharknado 3 has simply taken the effective satirical elements of that formula and refined them even further. There may never be another Asylum film to capture the organic, low-budget sincerity of the first Sharknado, but these sequels have found a niche of their very own. They’re of a more cynical breed, but here’s the thing—if you’re drunk enough while watching, it’s still a great way to kill two hours of a Wednesday night on cable TV.
Director: Anthony C. Ferrante
Writer: Thunder Levin
Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Cassie Scerbo
Release date: Wednesday, July 22, Syfy
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor. His official Sharknado 4 title prediction is Sharknado 4: Ghosts of Sharks Yet to Come. You can follow him on Twitter.