It’s Time to Rethink How We Talk About Sharknado

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!
Ian Ziering as Fin Shepard. Photo: Syfy Media

“What’s your opinion of the shark storms, Madam Vice-President?” a reporter asks in the first five minutes of Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No. “I feel for the sharks, but they’re wrecking our schools, our hospitals, our roads,” says the vice-president, who is played by Ann Coulter. This illuminating exchange occurs after the hero, Finley “Fin” Shepard (Ian Ziering), races to the White House to alert the president to the danger posed by more shark storms (and also to get a medal for his heroism in the last film, I think; the chronology could be a bit more clear). During his wind sprint past national landmarks, he passes a crowd of protesters holding signs that appear to have all been hand-lettered by the same 9-year-old with the same set of markers. “Sharks suck!” one reads. Oh, yeah, about that award: A reporter describes it as “the biggest award in all of the country.”

I think we need to rethink the way we talk about these movies. Yes, really.

This one, anyway. The third Sharknado is not “so bad it’s good” or “a bad film pretending to be making fun of bad films.” It is a ludicrous thriller that pushes right up to the edge of Airplane! surrealism but doesn’t quite cross over, and it knows what it’s doing. I’m not suggesting that anybody “missed” anything about the first two Sharknado films, nor is this an invitation for Slate to write a piece titled “5 Things the Critics Got Wrong about Sharknado,” though I’m sure one is in the works. Nobody’s going to give a film like Sharknado 3 the biggest award in all of the country. It’s a silly, silly, silly, silly movie. But it deserves kudos for its control of tone, which is a bit uncanny at times.

Like the first two movies, this one seems to have been written, or more likely dictated, by one of those breathless kids who follows adults around reciting the entire plot of a film from beginning to end, getting a lot of details wrong, and skipping over the parts that don’t interest him. Provided the adult has not yet seen the film in question and doesn’t mentally check out after two minutes of this, when he finally gets around to seeing it, he finds that it is quite different, and perhaps considerably less interesting, than the film described by the 9-year old.

And, yes, in case you’re wondering, I’ve had this experience. In fact, I’ve been on both sides of it. I was that kid. And I also know that kid. He’s a friend of my son’s. His name is Eddie. He once told me the entire plot of the first Avengers a week before I got around to seeing it, and his description consisted entirely of stuff like, “And then Loki is like, ‘I have you now,’ and Hulk picks him up and he’s like, ‘Blam, blam, blam,’ and then the city, there are guys on bikes with lizard faces, the guys, not the bikes, and Iron Man is all, ‘Whoooosh!’” [Spittle flying.]

Eddie could’ve written Sharknado 3, provided that he had help from an adult who thought the film might be even weirder if they cast, say, Ann Coulter as the vice-president, and Mark Cuban as the president (“They used to call me a shark, but now I’m looked upon as a beacon of hope,” he says), and Anthony Weiner as the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration director (d’ya think they’ll go there?), and Michele Bachmann as herself, for God’s sake, why, and Lou Ferrigno (the original Hulk on TV) as Secret Service agent Banner.

Robert Klein plays the mayor of New York, who awards Fin “the Order of the Golden Chainsaw.” It is a tiny golden chainsaw. He hoists it aloft and flicks the switch. It works. Of course it does! Eddie wrote this, I swear.

The sharks start flying into D.C. via waterspout at the eight-minute mark, in case you’re wondering, and by minute nine, Fin has grabbed his golden chainsaw and is ready to get biz-AYYYYYY. (Simpsons network executive neck-roll.) Sharks block the waterlogged stairs where Vice-President Coulter hoped to make her escape; she survives by surfing past them atop a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Fin follows President Cuban and a group of Secret Service agents into the basement bunker while bellowing, “Water flows down, I don’t think this is a good idea!” Chomp, chomp, chomp. An oblivious janitor with headphones doesn’t realize sharks have invaded the White House until she snags a baby shark’s tail in her vacuum cleaner. “Nobody attacks my house!” President Cuban exclaims, chambering a round in a 12-gauge. One of the beasts gets its maw stuffed with a shard of a bust of George Washington. It’s a truly weird image. Lynchian.

The sharks look fake. The sharks always look fake. That’s the aesthetic. But when one of them swallows a grenade and blows up, the animated orange fire-cloud has a plucky sheen.

You laugh, or maybe you shake your damn head. But you watch. And I guaran-goddamn-tee you, somebody’s getting a graduate thesis out of these movies.

It’s Time to Rethink How We Talk About Sharknado