Sunday, July 19, 2015

Riiftrax: Sharknado 2

The guys at Rifftrax have hit their 200th riff track this weekend, surpassing the amount of riffing done by Mystery Science Theater 3000, and we trundled down to see the second film in The Crappening, the 2015 slate of four films, starting with The Room and closing out with Miami Connection and Santa Claus vs. The Ice Cream Bunny.

Sharknado is one of those dumb Internet things, that would be barely worth a second look, except for the hyper-attention it got and the sort-of communal watching experience provided by Twitter which, even with all that, did not deserve even the "let's all goof on it" attention it got. And, hyper-attention notwithstanding, it apparently did no better than an average SyFy channel monster-fest. Perfect riffing material, right?

Well, no. At least not for me. Don't get me wrong: Mike, Kevin and Bill do yeoman's work here, by-and-large. We laughed. We had a good time. The only serious problem, technically, with this riffing was that the sound mix was bad. Like almost every other aspect of Sharknado 2: The Second One, the sound is half-assed. It's poorly mixed, in such a way that it was often hard to hear what people were saying, and the riffing sometimes got lost in the noise.

Bad sound was such an issue in MST3K that "good audio" was one of the key points of a good riffing movie on a list made by, I think, Joel in later years. But unlike the muffled ambient sound or poor overdubs of something like Manos: The Hands of Fate, this just feels neglectful.

In fact, all of Sharknado 2 could be summed up as "They just didn't care," a riff used during the classic MST3K episode "Attack of the the (sic) Eye Creatures". But it's more likely that the "Eye Creatures" creators did care but lacked the budget and skill to make a watchable film. This film is more a pure cynical calculation done on a spreadsheet in the bowels of NBCUniversal that answers "It doesn't matter what's in this. We can sell the rights for $X, and with $Y for budget, we'll make Z% profit."

And that trickles all the way down from the top to almost every corner of this looks-like-it-was-shot-on-a-cell-phone film. In the opening of the film, there's an airplane-in-distress sequence where the pilot is Robert Hayes. Although I barely recognized him, I guess that's worth a smile. But then you're kind of doing that through the whole movie: Is that somebody? Or somebody who used to be somebody?

But it can't keep your mind off, for example, the visible makeup, because the lighting is so bad. Or the sparing, awful special effects, which often look like somebody ran a blur filter on the frame. Or the constant, weather-free-except-for-sharks-and-flood effects of the Sharknado itself. (It never rains but floods figure big.)

You can justify some of this as being the natural effect of a low-budget, but I would point out the doubtless lower budget Big-Ass Spider or this year's Zombeavers. The former is constrained by the SyFy formula as much as Sharknado, but it looks like people cared. Zombeavers manages to be very entertaining and also highly skillful at balancing an extremely dumb concept with humor and horror.

And I recognize that these are largely people past their primes but I don't know if I were in the business of selling my face that I would agree to be in something like this. I don't know who Ian Ziering is, really, and had even less idea about Mark McGrath. Tara Reid at 38 needed a much gentler treatment. Vivica Fox looked decent, partly due to her skin I imagine, and partly due to fighting the trend of starving yourself thin so that when you hit 50 look like a drumhead. Kari Wuhrer also looked good, and actually professional.

The guys even commented on that: Something like "Stop that. Nobody else is acting..." I thought Bill Corbett said something about Wuhrer being in a worse movie (maybe the Eddie Murphy disaster "Meet Dave" with Corbett co-wrote) but I couldn't quite make it out. And she wasn't in that, so maybe he was talking about someone else. (Wuhrer was in Anaconda, of course.)

There's probably a master's degree or doctorate in characterizing "riffs", but I want to do a quick categorization to explain why, movie aside, the riffs here didn't entirely work for me.

1. You can riff on overall quality. This is standard audience-level riffing, where you turn to your friend and say "This sucks." It's easy and the sort of thing that makes you think you could riff, too, given a chance. There's actually a good example of this here where Ian Ziering is flying around in the tornado, able to kill sharks as he flies by. I think it's Mike who says, "You know guys, this movie is kind of dumb."

2. You can point out plot flaws. Murphy does a long riff here pointing out the complete stupidity of the idea that sharks could be tossed about in a weather event and not only not be killed but be so completely unaffected that their sole purpose would be to bite you. But here, as with everything in comedy, timing and brevity is everything. In episode #305 of MST3K, "Stranded In Space", one of the characters must abandon the hero because he spills his medicine, and he can't live without it. Crow comments: "Note to myself, pack more life-saving liquid."

3. You can draw physical environment references. Something looks like something else. Penises and boobs are always popular, though they mostly avoid that obvious stuff.

4. You can draw cultural references, which is a big source of jokes. As it turns out Jared Fogle, of Subway fame, is in this, with the FBI raiding his house only three days earlier, apparently looking for child porn. So, when he shows up on screen, they say, "We had a joke for this on Monday" which is better than any actual joke.

5. You can make fun of the actors. I think this is the trickiest thing to do well. It's best when there's an idiosyncratic element at play, like when Adrianna Miles can't pronounce "werewolf" in the movie Werewolf, or pretty much all of Tommy Wiseau. Ed Wood. Even Joe Don Baker. Or if there's an element of the movie that the actor just doesn't fit, like being lusted after by all the other characters inexplicably, or being really out of shape and yet still an action star.

So, here we have a lot of riffing on Tara Reid. A whole lot. I get that she's had plastic surgery. I get that she's sort of rough looking (and the lighting, makeup and camera work don't help). I get that she doesn't seem to be able to (or care to) act. And as someone who bashes this whole movie for its cynicism, I can relate to the idea that not trying is particularly mock-worthy.

But it stops being funny after a while, and for me, in fairly short order. It just feels mean.

I don't want to rag on it because it is funny, and Reid's not on screen much, but when she is, the laughs for me (and my companions) mostly stopped. Although we enjoyed it, it's not one I'd select for repeated viewing, especially with all the gems in the Rifftrax/MST3K catalogue.

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