As the first shark-themed SyFy TV movie since "Sharknado," which swallowed social media (and consequently the "actual" media) whole last month, "Ghost Shark," which premieres Thursday, is automatic big news. There is nothing I can do about it.
I am, I confess, one of the more than 300 million Americans who somehow managed to miss "Sharknado" over its multiple airings and am therefore unable to compare the two, except to say that the reported "scientific" ridiculousness of "Sharknado" sounds more fun than the standard supernatural ridiculousness of "Ghost Shark," which I have experienced for myself.
Our premise: A couple of uncouth yahoos you will not miss are out late at night, trying to win a fishing contest off the shore of a Southern harbor town called, almost unavoidably, Smallport. When a big shark makes a meal of their potentially prize-winning catch, they shoot it with a pistol and then with a crossbow, pour hot sauce into its mouth and lob in a grenade as a kind of after-dinner mint.
Somehow the shark manages to last long enough to swim into a magical cave, where it dies and immediately transforms into an indiscriminately vengeful ghost shark (blue, glowing, translucent) that can materialize wherever water is present: a puddle, a pool, a water cooler. Mayhem ensues. Also bikinis.
In the usual way of these things -- because doing things in the usual way of these things is the whole point of these things -- there is a sheriff, slow to accept the truth. A self-interested mayor. Many teenagers, one of whom is an unruly fat boy. A drunk old lighthouse keeper, played by Richard Moll, who was Bull on "Night Court" and who, with "7th Heaven" alumna Mackenzie Rosman as a suddenly orphaned teen with superior leadership skills, composes such star power as "Ghost Shark" has mustered.
Many of them will not reach the far end of this pond. But it is hard to fault the shark.
There is a fine tradition of bloody schlock in American movies, a tradition to which many of Syfy's own films -- "Sharktopus," "Swamp Shark" and "Malibu Shark Attack" among them -- "pay homage" (ironic quotation marks required). Indeed, there is something special about a young person's first encounter with the works of Herschell Gordon Lewis or Ray Dennis Steckler or Ed Wood, visionary filmmakers (showmen, at least) at the margins of the margins of the film industry, whose worst pictures -- which is saying something -- deserve respect for their shoestring ingenuity and will to exist.
There is an overlapping tradition of budget programming aimed at uncritical audiences out for a cheap thrill; that is the "Ghost Shark" pedigree. The predictable, melodramatic dialogue ("Ghosts are real -- as real as the lies this town was built on, as real as the price we're going to pay for those sins"), the purposeful overacting (and also the helplessly indifferent acting), the crudity of the special effects, especially where the shark itself is concerned -- are all familiar from the B, C, D, F, X, Y and Z-grade features of 20th century moviegoing.
But though it has its uses as a dumb distraction and once or twice is funny seemingly on purpose, there is nothing in it remotely personal, particularly original or engagingly odd. It lacks even the quality of being unintentionally amusing, because everyone involved knows what the game is: Even the fakery is, on one level, faked.
Ease off, you say. It's only a shark movie. Exactly, I reply.