Let’s quash the term “guilty pleasure.” There’s nothing wrong with excusing yourself from rereading “The Iliad” to cackle at “The Real Housewives” or root for a lunkhead to win the heart of “The Bachelorette.” Just don’t include those viewing habits on your college application form.
I was an unabashed fan of “Sharknado” when it blew up on Twitter three years ago. Instead of disguising its shoestring budget and cliché-fueled dialogue, the 2013 film embraced them, tapping the same vein that transformed a woman in a Chewbacca mask into an international star.
The sequel was even better, thanks to its clever winks to pop culture. The franchise started to lose its bite in last year’s “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” which emphasized not-so-special effects to such a degree that guests Michele Bachmann and Anthony Weiner served solely as chum.
“Sharknado: The 4th Awakens,” debuting Sunday on Syfy, is slightly worse.
Thanks to a weather-stabilizing system, it’s been five years since the last attack of the flying, flopping fins and the general public is celebrating the friendlier skies — and the fact that our hero, Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering), could still pass for a Beverly Hills High senior — with the opening of a shark-themed casino in Las Vegas.
It doesn’t take long for the predators to figure out a way to hit the Strip. In a matter of minutes, Shepard and his cousin (Masiela Lusha, all grown up from her “George Lopez” days) have commandeered the Treasure Island pirate ship to slaughter the animated stuffed animals. It’s an amusing sequence, especially when Shepard takes a moment from saving the world to greet passenger David Faustino, best known as Bud Bundy on “Married … With Children,” with a “Hey, Bud!”
OK, not exactly inspired by Mel Brooks, but in this particular outing, that passes for wit, topped only by ultraconservative Stacey Dash, cast as the Chicago mayor.
Instead of figuring out the smartest ways for other B-listers to roast themselves, director Anthony C. Ferrante and screenwriter Thunder Levin focus on seeing how efficiently they can topple Mount Rushmore, the Gateway Arch and the Grand Canyon. (The Mall of America has, so far, avoided the carnage.)
“Sharknado” initially worked because it spent much creative attention on destroying the tabloid world’s version of national treasures. What’s the good of having Paul Shaffer, Patti Stanger and Wayne Newton pop up if they’re simply there to pad the credits? The award for most wasted celebrity goes to Tommy Davidson. The former “In Living Color” star should be having a ball as a Richard Branson-like mogul who takes matters into his own hands. Instead, he looks like he’s praying for Keenen Ivory Wayans to swoop in and save him from the mayhem.
A couple of Minnesotans are among the carnage. Cheryl Tiegs plays Shepard’s mom; Gena Lee Nolin shows she can still fit into her “Baywatch” bikini. You’re forgiven if neither appearance registers.
You’ll also be forgiven for holding out hope that the series will return to more self-deprecating seas on its next voyage.
Until then, it’s safe to say that “Sharknado” has jumped the you-know-what.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @nealjustin