The good news about “Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens,” the latest in the frighteningly durable cable movie franchise that began in 2013 with the original “Sharknado” and continued with annual follow-ups, is that it's nowhere near the worst of the unnecessary sequels this summer—it certainly doesn’t betray audience goodwill like the shockingly lazy “Independence Day: Resurgence” did. But even the most dedicated of trash movie fans will find their patience tested with this third retelling of an initially mildly amusing joke, along with how "Sharknado 4" is just the same combo of demented plotting, dubious special effects and even more dubious guest appearances.
Set five years after the events of “Sharknado 3,” we learn in an opening crawl that, thanks to the nationwide installation of an “atmospheric stabilizing system” devised by billionaire brainiac Aston Reynolds (Tommy Davidson), sharknados are now a thing of the past. With that problem taken care of, Aston has decided to open Shark World, a gaudy theme hotel on the Vegas strip that runs on clean energy and contains dozens and dozens of sharks, because, why not? Shockingly, a sandstorm develops in the desert that somehow eludes the hi-tech systems and soon Las Vegas is overrun with poorly rendered CGI sharks. Luckily, long-running sharknado vanquisher Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) just happens to be there with his heretofore unmentioned cousin Gemini (Masiela Lusha) to meet up with his son (Cody Linley) and manages to temporarily save the day. This is only the beginning, of course, and soon Fin and Co. find themselves traveling from Nevada to Niagara Falls in the hope of quelling the ever-growing storm.
If you recall “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!”—and God help you if that is the case—then you know that it ended on a cliffhanger regarding Fin’s wife, April (Tara Reid), and whether or not she would be killed by a falling piece of a spaceship. Although the film tries to be sly about it by not having her in the extended Vegas-set prologue, her presence is hardly a secret since she appears in the ads and has been doing interviews promoting it—more about the latter later. As for the details of how she managed to survive certain death, I will leave for you to discover on your own, except to note that A.) it has a lot to do with the machinations of her unknown mad scientist father and B.) said father is played by Gary Busey. I realize that most people might choose to mock Reid’s performance, but I cannot deny a certain affection for it. While most of the actors are playing to the ridiculousness of the situation, she tackles her role with a weird intensity that is oddly appealing. She actually comes across as though all of the madness might actually be plausible, a trick that I doubt that the likes of Jennifer Lawrence or Brie Larson could easily pull off.
As has been the case with the previous “Sharknado” sequels, the cast has been jam-packed with a number of mid-level (at best) celebrities, who hope that making an appearance here will lend them some hip status. While I am sure that I missed several cameos along the way—there are evidently stars of wrestling, YouTube and reality television, areas of entertainment where my knowledge is minimal at best—you can see the likes of Cheryl Tiegs, David Hasselhoff and several Hasselh-offspring, former “Baywatch” co-stars Alexandra Paul and Gena Lee Nolin, Wayne Newton, Al Roker (one of several NBC/Universal plugs on display), Carrot Top, Steve Guttenberg, Gilbert Gottfried, Vince Neil, Lloyd Kaufman and the legendary Adrian Zmed. At one point, Paul Shaffer shows up as a street musician, and while I won’t spoil what happens to him, I will say that in terms of raw dramatic power, the scene rivals his former TV boss’ turn in the immortal “Cabin Boy.” There is also an appearance by clueless Stacey Dash—sorry, I mean Stacey “Clueless” Dash—as none other than the mayor of Chicago. As someone who works in that greatest of cities, I began to wonder what the mayor could have done to deserve being played by the likes of her. Then I remembered. Well played, SyFy.
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