Sharknado has to be one of the unlikeliest franchises in horror history. Little more than an average SyFy Channel Original Movie whose C-list cast (90210 also-ran Ian Ziering, tabloid mainstay Tara Reid), bargain basement CGI effects and outrageously goofy mash-up-monster premise (it’s a tornado! Full of sharks!) put it firmly in the realm of every other silly Saturday night B-movie that channel churned out, it nonetheless struck a zeitgeist-surfing pop cultural chord, a social media monster that earned the network some it’s biggest ratings, got a theatrical release and even launched its own collectible memorabilia — a fate befitting a summer blockbuster, not a mildly entertaining TV movie. Yet, here we are, with the fourth (!) entry in a cash cow that SyFy is smart to enough to milk until it bleeds.
Much like the similarly campy Machete films, though, this is a one-joke premise that has seen its last gasp. There was little more to the original Sharknado then Ziering’s cartoon recreation of square-jawed derring-do and the gag of watching poorly rendered digital sharks flying through the air and chomping the heads off unsuspecting bystanders. But that’s all it really needed; Sharknado wasn’t a good movie, per se, but it had that kind of doofy, innocent, anything-to-entertain cheapjack charm that the best SyFy Channel films have. As soon as it became successful, however, the Sharknado franchise got in on its own joke. And, four films in, it’s too aware itself to function as anything more than an Ouroboros of bad jokes and obnoxious, self-pleased wankery.
Subtitled The Fourth Awakens, this newest installment of the fish-fried meteorological creature feature begins with an opening crawl evoking Star Wars…and it doesn’t get better from there. That’s basically the level of wit we’re dealing with in Sharknado 4, a film that mistakes repurposed film quotes for jokes. It’s clear that screenwriter Thunder Levin (yes, that’s his name) and director Anthony C. Ferrante watch a lot of movies, and they are proud of that fact they watch a lot of movies. They can’t go five seconds without a visual or verbal gag that directly references, if not outright copies, a line or image from another, more popular movie. The Wizard of Oz,The Terminator, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and more all get checked in the course of 84 minutes. It would be cute if used in small doses. But this is all the screenplay — and I use the word loosely — is patched together from.
It’s a deeply lazy and self-congratulatory film that would border on parody if it actually commented on the things it was referencing or used it to tweak and enrich the ridiculousness of the Sharknado universe. But it doesn’t — it’s just corner-cutting repurposing, Levin filling in his script with the work of others and calling it a day. It’s sloppy and back-patting, and comes across like that annoying friend whose entire sense of humor was built from their zombie-like regurgitation of hackneyed catchphrases. It honestly makes one long for the relatively “clever” scatological stupidity of one of those terrible Friedman-Seltzer parodIies.
Sharknado 4 is clearly not a movie that’s meant to be taken seriously. None of these films feature award-caliber acting, ace special effects, complex narratives or thematic depth. They are silly junk food films. But junk food should still taste good — it shouldn’t be stale, gross and moldy. The first Sharknado was such a film. It had an innocent desire to entertain, and it did. The new film does not. Ziering and Reid look bored. The loose assemblage of scenes the movie deems a plot is even thinner than before, something about multiple sharknadoes bursting out all over the country after anti-sharknado devices invented by a tech guru (Tommy Davidson, who is supposed to be playing a genius, but comes off more like the sidekick in a late ‘90s “urban” comedy) fail. Every scene plays like a climax, an avalanche of incident meant to come off as exciting, but which is numbing instead. And those “jokes.” Those sad, pathetic attempts at jokes….
Sharknado films are just meant to be good time fun, jovial, jolly slices of undemanding idiocy intended to keep us watching for a breezy couple hours. And they started that way. But four films in, no one has their heart in it anymore and it shows. Undemanding idiocy shouldn’t have to be a chore to get through.