RiffTrax Live!: Sharknado Review: Wisecracks That Cut Deeper Than Shark Bites

RiffTrax was borne out of the ’90s cult hit show Mystery Science Theater 3000 where three smart-alecks would snipe witty, snarky, and above all else funny comments during terrible movies for the viewer’s amusement. After 11 years on the air, the gang wanted to see if they could bring their wit to more movies by producing play-along audio tracks that would rib the movies while you watched them at home. Now the format has grown to hosting live shows broadcast to movie theaters around the country by Fathom Events, and works just as well (or in some cases, better) as a live production.

This outing marked my second viewing of Sharknado and my fourth time experiencing RiffTrax Live. My previous encounters had them sending up a god-awful “homage” to Hitchcock’s The Birds called Birdemic, the original 1960s George Romero zombie classic Night of the Living Dead, and the ’90s sci-fi adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Each film was preceded by a short film about a man named Norman who must be a distant relative of Debbie Downer and Mr. Bean. His entire existence is unfortunate and cringeworthy, as it seems nothing ever goes his way, but the RiffTrax crew — Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy, and Mike Nelson — cut him no slack, delivering zingers one after another to make light of Norman’s terrible life.

For Sharknado, they opted to supplant another Norman short with Spring Fever, a brief hyperbolic look at a world where a man wishes springs never existed, meaning he could no longer sit on his couch, dial a rotary phone, keep time on his watch, latch his front door, or operate his car, among other things. Apparently there was a rash of shorts like this back in the ’50s or ’60s to highlight just how screwed the world would be if certain products suddenly disappeared. The protagonist learns his lesson, then spends the second half of the short droning on about the virtues of the underappreciated spring to his golf buddies. The jibs and jabs that the Riffers sling at the screen made the short not just watchable, but positively enjoyable, where on its own it would have been a groan-inducing snoozefest.

It’s time for the feature, a SyFy Original work. The guys waste no time tearing into the flick, pointing out the multitude of downright confounding editing, stylistic, cinematographic, and writing choices made by the film’s creators. The actors can barely be considered as “trying” given the awful material they have to work with. Still, it’s a who’s who of yesteryear stars and rehab’s finest like Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, and Julie McCullough alongside relative unknowns Cassandra Scerbo, Jaason Simmons, and Alex Arleo, with a sprinkle of people you’d never expect to see in a movie this bad like John Heard. The title should not bear explaining, but for those who need help, it’s about tornadoes full of sharks that terrorize Los Angeles. Actually, it’s about a hurricane first, since they don’t get tornadoes in L.A. and needed an excuse. Of course, they don’t get hurricanes either — oh, just stop thinking about it and try to enjoy the ride.

The SyFy premiere of Sharknado was prefaced with a slew of satirical hype on the Internet (primarily Reddit) — everyone thought it sounded terrible, but terrible movies can develop ironic fan-bases. It came as no surprise to me then that most of the people who turned out for the RiffTrax event in my area seemed fairly nerdy themselves. The movie was disorienting and almost painful to watch without commentary. With the Riffers in full effect, it became such a good time that the audience both in the State Theater in Minneapolis — where the Riffing was happening live — and in my own local venue were bursting out in howling laughter and applauding the jokes and witty barbs being leveled at the production on-screen behind them. Each time Sharknado went for a Jaws reference, the Riffers chided it hard. One character is introduced and devoured only a minute later, yet his short-lived bombastic dialogue fueled wisecracks for the remainder of the film. As the stupidity of the proceedings ramped up, so, too, did the quality of the background banter, culminating in some of the best gags happening in the last 10 minutes, including an Army of Darkness reference.

As the credits rolled, the guys didn’t waste much time wrapping things up, but made sure to plug their next big Kickstarter-funded event, a RiffTrax Live take on 1998’s Godzilla, or as they called it, “Ferris Bueller’s Other Day Off,” coming in mid-August 2014.

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Mark Buckingham

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