Around the time National Geographic produces its inevitable retrospective “The 2010s: What Was That All About?” historians should have a clearer understanding of why “Sharknado,” out of all the cheekily exploitative schlock movies programmed by Syfy, became a Twitter meme and cultural phenomenon. Fellow Syfy movies like “Sharktopus” and “Piranhaconda” must be kicking themselves. Inevitably, that mini-eruption spawned “Sharknado 2! The Second One,” which plops down into the summer, cheesy as ever, with an added infusion of conspicuous celebrity cameos that success has made possible. In that respect, it’s not just our fishy friends who can smell blood in the water.
Not surprisingly, the sequel indulges in all kinds of callbacks — treating the earlier version as if it were “Citizen Kane” — while relocating from Los Angeles to New York, after one very unfortunate flight (with Robert Hays, no less, as the pilot) that bears survivors Fin (Ian Ziering) and April (Tara Reid), who is heading to Gotham to promote her book on their joint ordeal.
Still, those unpredictable weather patterns and snapping clouds — raining terrible-looking CGI sharks down from the sky — have followed them, as Fin labors to save his friends and family, which includes rescuing his brother-in-law (Mark McGrath), who’s at a Mets game; while Fin’s sister (Kari Wuhrer) tries to keep her daughter and assorted pals alive. (As usual, it’s a pretty good tipoff, based on the billing, who is and isn’t shark bait.)
For all the famous faces who pop up — including the “Independence Day” tandem of Vivica A. Fox, as one of Fin’s high school chums , and Judd Hirsch, as a helpful cab driver — the pair that really stands out is “Today’s” Matt Lauer and Al Roker, who occupy almost as much screen time as the principals, as they explain the “sharknado” threat on air. While the first glimpse might make them look like good sports, the repeated visits merely underscore the impression that there’s practically no limit to the silly stuff Lauer will do, provided the asset in question (in this case, Syfy) is part of the overarching NBCUniversal umbrella.
Writer Thunder Levin and director Anthony C. Ferrante are wise not to try to elevate the material just because of the freak social-media storm that lifted the first one. Still, aside from a few clever moments (like an homage to “The Twilight Zone’s” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode; or the challenge of finding appropriate weapons, thanks to New York’s gun — and hardware — laws), the creatives haven’t managed to bridge the gap between blood-spurting exploitation and winking genre parody.
“All this attention’s crazy,” Fin complains in the early going, citing the admiration they’ve received.
True enough. And about the best one can say is that success hasn’t spoiled “Sharknado 2,” mostly because, for all intents and purposes, all the heavy lifting was pretty much done after they titled it.