Sharknado (2013)

Sharknado

The best worst film of the summer!

sharknadoAuthor: Written by a gentleman whose name is apparently Thunder Levin. This name is not, as you might imagine, a 21st century take on Alan Smithee. Mr. Levin is a real person who wishes his association with this film to be known; he also co-wrote and directed the recent piece de merde, Atlantic Rim — released the same month as the much more expensive Pacific Rim, but this one stars David Chokachi, previously known for Baywatch, and features Canadian First Nations actor Graham Greene, who should have known better but probably had a granddaughter who needed dental work or something. Anyway, Thunder Levin is proud of himself, and who can gainsay that? I’ve never had a film script produced, although apparently all I have to do is think of a plot that goes with the title Shark Tsunami.

Perhaps more worthwhile to consider is the production company in charge of this; The Asylum. This is a production company busily doing what I think of as “garbage mining”; they seek out niches of genres that do not appeal to people with good taste and exploit them for all they’re worth.  If you look them up on IMDB, you’ll see that they’re heavily invested in films that have the words “Shark” and “Zombie” disproportionately represented in their titles. They also have produced a number of coattail movies; for instance, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter came out in 2012 and so did The Asylum’s production of Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.  Similarly, Atlantic Rim and Pacific Rim, as noted above. It is a sobering thought that you hope to make money by appealing to people who are too stupid or forgetful to know what the exact name of a film is, or who fondly believe that someone has erred and released a brand-new film to Netflix 20 minutes after it came out in theatres.

Other Data:  July 11, 2013, according to IMDB.  The film has become well known for the social buzz which accompanied it.  “According to the Syfy network, Sharknado, which aired on Thursday night, brought in nearly 5,000 tweets per minute.  This … came within 2,500 tweets of Game of Thrones‘s Red Wedding episode when it aired in early June.”

Cast: Ian Ziering as, believe it or not, Fin Shepard.  Mr. Ziering is perhaps best known for his work in the original Beverly Hills 90212.  Tara Reid as April Wexler.  Ms. Reid is perhaps best known for being a drunken slut whose antics never fail to sell a few extra tabloids.  Her appearance in this film means to the mediaologically savvy that her career has now become a joke; people no longer expect her to act but merely to be sufficiently well known that someone will recognize her name when they see it near the title.  She made a film in Vancouver a few years ago that required her to pretend to be an archaeologist; it was perfectly obvious that she would need three or four tries to spell “archaeologist”.  Cassie Scerbo plays the beautiful girl with large breasts who is not Tara Reid. Supporting cast includes a bunch of people no one has ever heard of, playing roles like “Nurse”, “Beach Victim,” and “Beach Attack Survivor”, and Adrian Bustamante, who actually is an interesting actor.  He did a great job of playing Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace’s murderer, in a made-for-TV movie a few years ago.  This is proof that no matter how good you are, you have to work for a living.  Even Tara Reid.

About this film:

sharknado-attackIt’s called Sharknado. What can I tell you? Did you actually need a plot recap for Snakes on a Plane? The central premise is that a tornado, or waterspout, actually gathers up a bunch of assorted sharks and sprays them at high velocity all over Los Angeles. No, I’m not kidding; this defies everything that anyone knows about weather systems and marine biology, but what a high-concept premise, huh? This leads to a typical moment where an unpleasant character says, “Sharks in the swimming pool?  It’s impossiAAARRRGH!!”  People drive around during the sharkocalypse (sorry, it’s absolutely irresistible) for no really good reason except that if you stay indoors it’s hard to get menaced by a shark.  Sharks land on the roof of your car and try to chew their way through to get at you.  Sharks rain down on the beach and force innocent extras to bury their limbs in the sand and pretend that they’ve been amputated.

The opening sequence is saying something about the illegal harvesting of sharks’ fins for the Asian market, but it’s never mentioned again. Perhaps it explains why sharks appear to throw themselves suicidally into a series of waterspouts, so that they can rain down upon helicopter pads and SUVs in Los Angeles.  Ian Ziering plays a guy named Fin — hilarious, right? — who owns a bar. His ex-wife is Tara Reid, and after her new boyfriend discovers that, yes, there really ARE sharks in the swimming pool, Tara and the horrible bratty kids require rescue, because, you know, staying in the basement would be too sensible.  The rest of this plot is even more chaotic and incomprehensible.

There is a long sequence in the middle where a group who is speeding across town for some stupid but putatively urgent reason stops and spends what must be two hours rescuing children from a school bus by winching them up to an overpass. Because apparently the LAPD et al are occupied elsewhere. (You know if this really happened CNN and Fox would be giving you a blow-by-blow of the rescue in real time and their choppers would be interfering with the rescue efforts.) The chubby, nerdy bus driver says, “Gee, my mom always said Hollywood would kill me!”  He is then immediately splattered by a flying letter from the Hollywood sign that has been swept up by the wind. We are meant to laugh at this. The part I laughed at was when I realized that the producers couldn’t afford any kind of special effect so they settled for a spray of red paint onto the flying piece of sign.

CRO_money_Sharknado_07-13-thumb-598xauto-7238There’s a moment near the end where Ian Ziering, armed with a chainsaw, deliberately catapults himself into the mouth of a huge shark and then cuts his way out of its belly, emerging unscathed.  This is, of course, indescribably stupid and over the top.  The internet literature surrounding this film suggests that Thunder Levin, when asked by cooler heads if such-and-such a piece of dialogue or plot twist was not too indescribably stupid or over the top, replied, “It’s called Sharknado, for chrissakes!” I suppose since I actually picked up my remote control and invoked this film, I can’t complain that it’s too indescribably stupid or over the top.  I do intend to suggest it, though. Strongly.

As I have said elsewhere in this blog, notably about a film from the same production company, I enjoy bad art. I am, in fact, one of those incomprehensible people who likes to smoke a joint and put on a double bill of, say, Plan 9 From Outer Space and The Brain From Planet Arous and laugh my ass off. Given the success of this film, though (the Internet is saying they’re already making a sequel), I think it’s necessary to make an important distinction. The kind of bad art that I enjoy is art that was not created as bad art, but, like Ed Wood Jr., where someone set out to make a fine film and ended up with Glen or Glenda.  I have never enjoyed films like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes which deliberately set out to BE bad art; I don’t care much for the “nudge nudge wink wink” school of cinema.

Thunder Levin cannot possibly have made a good movie, given the raw materials; you cannot hire Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, restrict the budget to $2 million, and expect work at the level of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. As a character on Modern Family said recently, “Meryl Streep could play Batman and be the right choice.”  It works the other way: Tara Reid could play a drunken slut and be the wrong choice. Not every film can hire Meryl Streep and play with $150 million worth of special effects; I get that. But if you’re restricted to making a small movie, I can’t see that there is any choice other than trying to make a good small movie, unless you are The Asylum. The Asylum deliberately casts actors who have more reputation than talent, trying to parlay a tiny budget into some kind of recognition factor. In the past they have used  Carmen Electra, Jaleel White, Tiffany, Lorenzo Lamas and Debbie Gibson.  This is not an accident; they’re trying to make you laugh at the spectacle of a washed-up 80’s pop star with little or no acting talent being menaced by either Mega-Shark or Giant Octopus.  In short, what this is is meretricious.  They’ve avoided the arena of “good” or “bad” filmmaking and settled for counting up the number of times someone tweets “OMG Lorenzo Lamas is such a cheeseball!”  In other words, apparently in the progression from direct-to-video to direct-to-Netflix, someone has realized that you don’t actually have to create a film at all — you merely have to create something that people will talk about as if it were a film.

I think it’s quite telling that even though I am one of the few reviewers who is willing to engage with a bad film and try and assess it rationally, I ended this experience wishing that I had not had the experience of watching this.  I can only hope that this fad for deliberately bad art will be over soon.  Given the fact that they can make money without actually spending much, I tend to doubt it, but I can hope.

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the one thing that made me laugh for the right reasons. Not content with the heavy-handed mockery of naming the central character Fin, the closing slide, in an echo of fine foreign movies of a certain vintage, says merely “Fin”.  THAT, I laughed at.

Notes For the Collector:

The film is currently being shown on television in Canada on Space and in the USA on Syfy.  If you do not live in one of those countries, or don’t have cable, you can purchase a copy on Amazon for about $11.99 as of September 3, 2013. Why exactly you would want to do that is a matter between yourself and your artistic integrity, but it’s there if you want it.

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