By Phillip Ratliff
For our stinky caveman predecessors, it was the campfire, but today, it is the warm glow of Netflix beckoning us to slough off a day’s stress and huddle. It’s not a perfect one-to-one analogy: hunting wooly mammoths was probably less terror-filled than your typical office job. And unlike campfires, which all look pretty much the same, Netflix is filled with thousands of options. Sorting through them can only add to the exhaustion overwhelmed viewers come to Netflix to escape.
How to address this irony? Sometimes, the best approach to this conundrum is to punt and let Netflix’s perceptive algorithms visit a movie upon you. Netflix’s programmers aren’t quite rocket scientists, but they do manage the occasional bout of inductive reasoning. Recently, Netflix, convinced that I like sharks and laughing, determined I should watch Sharknado 2. I am happy to report that the Netflixian algorithm scored a direct hit. Any movie that casts Robert Hayes as an airline pilot and Judd Hirsch as a taxi driver has something going for it, even if that something is a bit tawdry.
I suppose much of Sharknado 2’s campy appeal starts and ends with its lavish use of gore. Sharknado 2’s brand of guts is often rather oblique, such as when Kelly Osborne, portraying a flight attendant, loses her lovely head to a lunging shark. We see a spray of red food coloring digitally imposed over where Osborne’s head would have been, but that’s about it. More overt gore tends toward the kind you see in October at a Spirit Halloween store—outlandish and obviously made out of silly putty.
Tara Reid’s loss of a hand (or as a sleeping continuity editor allowed to later be presented, most all of her arm) illustrates what messy fakery that dismemberment, a la the Sharknado franchise, can be. A CGI shark lunges at Reid’s hand. It chomps down. Reid screams (a bit of business she manages to pull off without moving her face). The camera cuts to her holding up a maimed, partially denuded rubber arm, as red corn syrup spurts furiously from a syringe hidden in its ulna. At that point, the lives of Reid’s character and the movie’s viewers have changed. She’ll have to pretend to not have a hand. We’ll have to pretend that her bandaged stump isn’t exactly the same length as her regular old arm.
Word on the Internet is that there will be a Sharknado 3. This positions Sharknado 2 as the second act in a trilogy. It’s up to Sharknado 3, then, to explain how a dumb killing machine transforms into a fish with a mission. (Hint: It’s aliens.) As the second installment of a three-parter, Sharknado 2 hits all the right notes. Movie theory tells us that second acts are game changers, the point at which we realize that this isn’t simply about physically defeating a powerful enemy. This is a battle of good and evil, over our way of life.
The antagonists of Sharknado 2 are indeed more than apex predators left over from the Ordovician period and swept up by happenstance into a tornadic vortex. If that were the case, we could shrug it off as “shit happens” and double down on the prevention of global warming. Sharknado 2 sharks are intelligent. They hold grudges. They lunge mid-air toward intended victims. “It’s like he knew who I was,” Tara Reid vapidly muses from her hospital bed. We sense the actor’s courageous attempt to muster a flashback.
The poignancy of this moment comes crashing down several movie hours later, on the climax, when Ian Ziering or whatever his character is called removes Tara Reid’s severed, rubbery arm, still clinging to a loaded pistol, from the maw of the great white, fires off a few rounds at another shark, and still has the wherewithal to remove the wedding band from the gimp arm and place it on his estranged wife’s remaining ring finger. At this point we know many things: that Ian Zeiring or whatever his character is called is not an undeveloped stereotype to be trifled with; that not since The Empire Strikes Back has hand dismemberment been this pregnant with possibilities; and that in its heyday, Tara Reid’s arm must have been about seven feet long.