JANUARY 15, 2016
It's been a long damn time since I've watched a sequel to a movie I hadn't seen, let alone a part 3, but I was forced to watch Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! for one of my freelance jobs, ending not only that OCD-driven streak, but also ending my successful avoidance of this series. That's right, I have never seen a frame of the first two Sharknado films, because they just seemed like the sort of thing I would hate (bad movies on purpose) and as they were all released post-HMAD's daily grind, I had even less of an interest. Did seeing part 3 change my mind and convince me to go back and watch them? No, but I'll say this much: I was wrong, at least for this one, as I didn't hate the movie.
Before watching I joked about not being able to follow its complicated narrative without having seen the first two movies, so I was kind of amused that I WAS a bit confused when it started, as Ian Ziering (I know enough to know he's the hero of these things) was running in a panic right off the bat, and I had no idea why. However the Wiki synopsis I read for Sharknado 2 didn't suggest any sort of cliffhanger ending, so I dunno, maybe they just wanted it to be more exciting than showing him walking. Anyway early on he gets a medal from President Mark Cuban for his shark-killing heroics, and then a sharknado strikes the White House and things start all over again. I'll give it credit - it doesn't make you wait long for action, ever - the damn things appear every few minutes and wreak lots of bloody havoc. None of the FX are any good, but clearly quantity over quality was the MO here, so I can't fault them for it - I've seen enough Syfy/Asylum movies that only had a few FX and they still sucked anyway, so why not stuff as many in as possible? It's not like the sharks will look better if the FX guys had fewer shots to deal with on what I'm sure is a minimal budget.
And I assume a hefty chunk of that budget went to casting, as the movie is jam-packed with cameos, some even somewhat impressive - Ann Coulter? George RR Martin? Others were just plain wacky, like Jackie Collins in what was probably her last time on camera, and Michele Bachmann in her first ever narrative movie appearance. The Wiki has even more listed, such as Steve Guttenberg's character from Lavalantula (Ziering appears in that one; they share a universe I guess), and also says that the appearance by a pre-scandal Jared Fogle was cut, though he was in the version I watched (yay?). Maybe some of them appeared for free just to join the fun, but still, just roping everyone in and increasing the catering/transportation budgets to accommodate them probably put a dent in the couple million Syfy threw at this thing.
Luckily, Syfy is owned by Universal, and from that they were able to secure some (free?) production value, shooting a big chunk of the movie at Universal Studios in Orlando. They didn't get to show much of the park in terms of the licensed characters (sorry, no sharks devouring Minions), but you can't help but laugh at a shark eating someone posing for a photo with Jaws in front of the familiar lagoon they have set up. Plus it's a welcome respite from the usual shitty Asylum sets - the NASA control room (yep, they go into space eventually, and yes, sharknadoes attack there too) in particular is laughable, looking more like the control tower to one of those tiny regional airports where you take people for scenic tours. I also couldn't help but be amused that the film's plot actually helped dictate another Asylum production tradition: ugly lighting. With sharks constantly swarming overhead, it makes sense that it always looks cloudy and grey throughout the movie, so kudos on that one, fellas.
It's also got just enough cutesy in-jokes to warrant some of my respect. They throw in a few Jaws references, of course (Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath plays Martin Brody, as he apparently did in the previous film, and also a slightly more inspired "General Gottleib"), but there's also a Universal tour guide named Babs (and yes, "Ask for Babs" comes up) which I can't help but appreciate. GRRM is killed (spoiler) sitting next to someone in a wedding dress, and Ziering's 90210 license plate (as does the one from Jaws) makes an appearance. It's even got some legitimately funny lines, like when they're trying to explain to an army guy what's going on and someone says "Bio meteorology is not really an exact science yet." And somehow, the Today Show hosts (all of them, I think) talking about sharknadoes with the same everyday gravitas as they might an earthquake never stopped being funny to me. Basically, there's just enough genuine wit and "We're just having fun" attitude to keep me from getting annoyed.
It does wear thin though. If this didn't have to be a Syfy premiere (i.e. 88-90 minutes to make two hours with commercials), I suspect it would be 70 minutes long at most. The space stuff feels like a 4th act (it really should have climaxed at Universal, since so much of the movie is devoted to Ziering trying to get there and save his family) and, like all Syfy movies, there are too many "OK let's just cut somewhere at random and show anonymous people getting killed" sequences of no concern to the plot. Jared's is one such scene, in fact, so it was probably easy enough to cut for Syfy though I haven't the slightest idea of why they'd put it back in now that, if anything, we know even WORSE things about him than we did when the movie premiered in late July (the worse allegations didn't surface until August, if memory serves). For the first half hour I was thinking "I've been too hard on these things, this is actually fun!" but by the time it ended I was getting pretty sick of seeing digital sharks and random extras being digitally eaten or covered in digital gore.
But there IS an energy to it, which is more than I can say for most Asylum or Syfy stuff that I've seen. If you recall, most of the other Asylum movies that got attention (like the Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus one) were actually terribly boring movies that only had enough action for the trailer, but this, if anything, could almost use a little LESS carnage so it doesn't wear out its welcome (maybe commercial breaks would help?). With all of the attention (read: Twitter hashtags) that the first two got, I'm sure they were given a little more money to put this together, and if so they used it wisely - I can't imagine there's a single movie in their history that offers this many names, this many locations (the story takes them from Washington, to Florida, to outer space), or this much production value - there are two big scenes set on roller coasters! It's like a real movie!
Just not a very good one. I mean, it's pointless to critique the screenplay or acting, because this is a machine that exists for people on social media to band together and live-tweet it, so I don't really care that it's not a winner in those regards - it'd be like complaining that the latest Paul Blart movie didn't have any really exciting action sequences. But again, it gets too repetitive, and this is to someone who hasn't already seen the other two movies, which I can only assume are more or less the same (I understand the first one wasn't as cameo driven, however). To a series fan (?) this might be a case of enough is enough, but they have a 4th one coming (and, sure enough, are using Twitter to decide if Tara Reid's character will survive the encounter that ends this one on a cliffhanger), so I guess we will see if the joke has grown stale or not. Either way, if I'm forced to watch that one too, at least I'll know that there's a good chance I won't hate it. More than I can say about a possible new Paranormal Activity or Hellraiser.
What say you?