Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (Wednesday, July 22, on Syfy) is, of course, a disaster movie: sharks are swept up into storms, hurtle through the air eating humans on the fly, you know the drill. But even before a chainsaw is raised or a single extra goes torso-first into a great white’s gullet, it hints that Earth was struck by an earlier, unmentioned apocalypse: one that destroyed nearly everyone and everything not owned by Comcast Corporation.
Last year’s Sharknado 2, sequel to the 2013 social-media-rubbernecking sensation, already showed that the franchise was willing to use every part of the fish carcass to cross-promote Syfy’s siblings in Comcast-owned NBC Universal, giving prominent roles to Matt Lauer and Al Roker of NBC’s Today show. But that was merely tip of the dorsal fin compared with the feeding frenzy of placement in the third installment.
This time, as Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) prepares to battle a toothy superstorm, we get saturation coverage from a full Today team, right down to wine-hoisting Kathie Lee and Hoda; cameos from Kim Richards and Reza Farahan of Bravo and Maria Menounos of E!; and repeat appearances of the Comcast Xfinity logo, which whips past us on a race car in Daytona.
Above all, we get lavish, loving, not-even-pretending-to-be-uncommercial shots of Comcast-owned Universal Orlando Resort, the setting for the greater part of the sequel’s carnage–because when man-eating sharks vacation, they Vacation Like They Mean It™. The Universal globe is more prominent than the black monolith in 2001. Characters casually-not-casually name-drop the Cabana Bay Resort. There are loving, languorous pans over the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Twister… Ride It Out rides. The movie is so overtly promotional, I suspect you can show your Tivo recording pass at the Harry Potter Three Broomsticks restaurant for 20% off a butterbeer.
But at least a theme park is an appropriate tie-in for Sharknado, because this franchise is really a series of rides, each of which has to somehow be faster and more vertiginous than the last. And there Sharknado 3 delivers, especially in the beginning (which destroys a major American city before the opening titles even roll) and the climactic ending, which after all the insanity of the first two movies somehow manages to boldly go where no shark has gone before.
We begin in Washington D.C., where Fin, wearing a tux and his trademark stomach-cramps grimace, is receiving a medal for valor from President Mark Cuban and Vice President Ann Coulter. The movie doesn’t waste time; essentially there are a few raindrops and soon hammerheads are flying through the halls of the White House (which, somehow, Comcast neglected to purchase naming rights to). Meanwhile, Fin’s pregnant wife April (Tara Reid) is visiting her mother May (Bo Derek) in Orlando, giving Fin a reason to race to the resort after D.C. is saved/decimated: a massive “sharknado wall” is bearing down on the East Coast, and Washington was merely an amuse-bouche.
The middle of the movie delivers the expected Sharknado-isms–stiff line delivery, brazen pseudoscience, lines like “Biometeorology is not really an exact science yet.” Tornadoes seem to appear out of blue sky (as do the emotional subplots), characters survive a plane crash that leaves them conveniently half-naked.
But it’s all buried in a cameo-nado of celebrity guest appearances: I won’t spoil your fun or cramp my fingers by listing them all, but they include the bipartisan appearances of both Anthony Weiner and Michele Bachmann, who prove that in today’s media climate a politician can both jump the shark and later costar with it. The slog of guest casting and product placements only underscores that Sharknado has become a big, bloated seafood platter, and everyone and their agent wants a bite.
But for all that, Sharknado 3 keeps its own self-aware sense of humor and it can still deliver a gorily surprising action setpiece. The best sequence by far is the movie’s climax, which involves almost no cameos, plugs or in-jokes; manages to both wink at and outdo the original movie’s chainsaw coup de grace; and ends with what is simultaneously one of the most disgusting, laughable yet weirdly beautiful visuals I’ve seen on TV this year.
In the end, Sharknado 3–like the CGI monsters that are its true stars–is the beast that it is: single-minded, greedy and ravenous. But for all that, it can still be a lovely creature.