When Sharknado introduced us to Ian “Fin” Ziering, Tara “Line?” Reid, and their trusty shark rippin’ chainsaws, I loved every dumb second of it. When Sharknado 2: The Second One built upon that momentum, casting everyone from Today Show hosts to Richard Kind to Vivica A. Fox into its world of chaos and buzzsaw arms, I loved it even more. I gave both movies solid A’s and I would do it again, because they embody exactly the right kind of mindless stupidity that a B-movie should. Both gleefully rained unholy terror and endless shark guts down on their hapless heroes, who either kicked ass or cantered away like they were halfheartedly trying to make it to a work meeting. Sharknado and Sharknado 2 let people turn their brains off and watch the nonsensical efforts of people who turned theirs off long ago. Plus, there’s just no point in giving something with the word “sharknado” in its title anything other than an A or an F. It’s either entertaining or it’s not.
Sharknado 3 is not.
This time last year, I wrote of Sharknado 2: The Second One:
“The more I heard about this sequel, in fact, the more I resigned myself to disappointment. I looked upon its thousands of celebrity cameo announcements and despaired. It seemed inevitable that the movie I loved for its unapologetic nonsense would absorb the hype, backlash, and semi-ironic backlash to the backlash to emerge as a bloodless symbol of all that truly sucks about sequels.”
Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! is that sequel I had been dreading. This is the sequel that chokes by stuffing itself with endless, self-indulgent cameos. This is the sequel that prioritizes product placement, which is so blatant that it becomes a joke in and of itself before it loops back around to insulting. This is the sequel that stacks Big Moment after Big Moment, each one announcing its arrival with a smug smirk, assuming it just blew our fucking minds.
You might be wondering why this Sharknado is any different than the others, and that’s fair. It’s not like the first two movies didn’t have some self-congratulatory moments. After all, this is a franchise built on the chainsawed backs of sky sharks. But the unforgivable sin Sharknado 3 commits is that it so obviously worked backwards from the splashy scenes and cameos it thought would generate the most hashtags. The spontaneous what-the-fuckery of the first two movies is nowhere to be found in this third chapter, which anticipates its own buzz. You can almost hear the pitch, yelled through that manic grin television serial killers use before taking out an unsuspecting victim in a spray of “Can you believe we’re getting away with this?” blood: “Ian Ziering wins a golden chainsaw from the President! Tara Reid gives birth inside a shark! David Hasselhoff goes to space! Laser chainsaw! Space sharks! Sharks in space!!!”
It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that screenwriter Thunder Levin (still his real name) brainstormed Sharknado 3 by tacking two lists on a board: one with all the potential “Holy shit!” moments, and the other detailing the many, many bored reality stars who expressed even mild interest in losing limbs to a cartoon shark. Then, and only then, must Thunder Levin have written the screenplay for Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No: Seriously, Shut It Down, randomly connecting the two in a Carrie Mathison-esque feverish stupor. To be fair, the Sharknado 3 mission is less about tracking down terrorists than it is about figuring out how to highlight a Xfinity sponsorship in the middle of an unnatural disaster. (For future reference: Just launch the goddamn shark through a billboard and call it a day.)
After watching Sharknado 3, though, it actually wouldn’t be that shocking if the inevitable Sharknado 4 sends Ian Ziering after terrorists. Sharknado 3 says frozen sharks are lurking in the clouds, snacking on birds before they strike Ian Ziering and his Mystery Van of jaded sharknado veterans, but the part of the movie that stands out the most is the raging undercurrent of what is best described as, “America: Fuck Yeah!”
The movie kicks off at the White House, as a sharknado interrupts Ian Ziering’s commemorative golden chainsaw ceremony. Luckily, President Mark Cuban can handle a machine gun, and so they get to shootin’. Ian Ziering then makes his way to save his family at Universal Orlando Studios (Visit sunny Orlando! buy things at Universal Studios Orlando!), as the sharknado makes its way through an Air Force base and NASCAR’s Daytona 500. The real kicker, though, is that they only beat this unprecedented ’nado when his estranged father David Hasselhoff remembers that there’s Reagan-era technology that can totally save the day, even though some dumb naysayers once said otherwise. And so Sharknado lovingly channels Reagan’s spirit in the form of a bright pink laser beam, pointed at the earth by David Hasselhoff’s guiding hand. Bingo, presto, disaster averted. As Ian Ziering looks wistfully up at the moon, where hero David Hasselhoff salutes next to an American flag, Sharknado 3 wants you to know that it just loves its freedom, man.
Sharknado 3 doesn’t have the depth to get overtly political, nor should it. But when you end a cold open with President Mark Cuban and VP Ann Coulter lifting a flagpole to impale a shark, explicitly echoing the famous picture of Marines lifting the flag at Iwo Jima, you’ve lost all semblance of playing coy. I know I’m supposed to feel some swell of pride or at least amusement when Ian Ziering grins up at the impaled shark and breathes, “God bless America,” but the neo-con fantasy of it all is too distracting. Sharknado and Sharknado 2 were many things, often all at once, but they were never this blatantly manipulative.
And you know what? It’s a real shame that this movie is so calculated and joyless. As Joshua Alston argued so well earlier this week, television is a great place for schlock movies and the social media hungry nerds who love them (myself included). Sharknado, with its oblivious attempts at unleashing true horror in the form of flying sharks, was the perfect candidate. In a previous installment, sidekick Frankie Muniz’s attempts to set off a bomb with his nose because sharks had reduced him to a limbless Monty Python-style torso would have been perfectly bonkers. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to relish the B-movie absurdity of that moment when you’re trying to get out from underneath a Universal Studios Orlando promotional garbage mountain. (Enjoy sunny Universal Studios Orlando!) The image of a shark propelling itself around a roller-coaster loop would have been far more hilarious if your eyes could just stop rolling at Ian Ziering and Nova (his erstwhile… love interest? Daughter figure? Ugh, both), whose plane crash just had the weird side effect of stripping them to their underwear. The second Sharknado realized that it was dumb fun, it leaned so hard into the “dumb” that there’s just no space to enjoy the fun.
Give or take a Coulter, everything that’s wrong with Sharknado 3 can be found in its final scene. Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, having just blasted through the atmosphere nestled in the bellies of burning sharks, land on a beach. Tara Reid chainsaws her way out with her robotic hand in an echo of the first movie’s defining moment, but she then has to immediately top herself by delivering their son. Then a stray piece of spaceship hurtles towards the earth, where Tara Reid’s gaping face is waiting—and the screen smashcuts to hashtags. “#APRILLIVES or #APRILDIES: you decide!” the voiceover booms, and for a second, I really thought I was having a stress stroke. But no: This franchise is actually for real turning over the fate of a character, as played by an actress who has certainly put in her time as an infamous internet punching bag, to the waiting jaws of Twitter’s most eager egg avatars. It’s such a blatant attempt at viral publicity that it’s almost funny, but after a solid hour and a half of similarly cynical attention grabs, it’s just sad.
R.I.P. Maria Menounos/Kim Richards/Jorge Benal/Brad Keselowski/Joey Logano/Chris Jericho/Lou Ferrigno/George R.R. Martin/Xfinity billboard/Universal Studios Orlando/The Today Show/promiscuous teens/Reagan/Frankie Muniz.
- The movie gets an F, but I would like to use this space to give the opening credits an A, because that animation is super cool.
- If you can take it again, re-watch the scenes with Ian Ziering, David Hasselhoff, and Tara Reid in space, because in no way was Tara Reid present for those shoots, which raises the crucial question: Are Ian Ziering and Tara Reid the Julianna Marguiles and Archie Panjabi of Sharknado? Discuss!
- [joke] What was George R.R. Martin doing filming Sharknado 3 instead of writing more Game Of Thrones?! [/joke]
- Last year, I said Ian Ziering should investigate the possibility that he attracts sharknados, and hey, I was right! This year, I was sure we were getting zombie sharks, and to be clear, I do not want to be right this time.
- Note how careful they were to show the iconic Universal Studios Orlando orb rolling through the park without touching a single person. Synergy!
- Anthony Weiner playacting the head of NASA was sure something!
- As of my screener, they had edited out Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle, but kept in the total annihilation of Charleston. This seems like a weird choice!
- This is the part of the review where I’d usually write down a few of my favorite lines but, uh, I’ve got nothing. Sorry, Frankie Muniz. For so many things.