Tremors: Shrieker Island

★★★1/2

To say I have a lengthy history with the “Tremors” franchise would be an understatement. I’d often watch the original installment after school on stations such as USA or TNT. Mostly I’d tune in for the famed scene in which Burt (Michael Gross) and Heather Gummer (Reba McEntire) let loose on a Graboid with an entire arsenal for breaking through their basement rec room wall or the concluding critter kill where Val (Kevin Bacon) tricks one of those varmints into drilling its way through a cliff face plummeting to its demise.

The movie gained greater respect in my eyes when I spotted its one-sheet on the bedroom wall of Brodie Bruce (Jason Lee) in Kevin Smith’s sophomore feature “Mallrats.” (The movies shared a studio in Universal and producer in the late, great Jim Jacks.) Fictional or not, Brodie was a teenage hero of mine and if “Tremors” was good enough for him it sure as shit was good enough for me. (Fun Fact: “Mallrats” celebrated its 25th anniversary on the day I wrote this piece.)

Fast forward a bunch of years – I’m now married, have a home, have a job, have a dog, have responsibilities. My love of “Tremors” hasn’t faded an iota. My wife Jamie is a devotee to boot. We’ll drop whatever we’re doing and tune into “Tremors” when it’s on premium cable. Everybody has cable movies – hers are “Jurassic Park,” “Apollo 13” and “The American President”; mine are “Tombstone,” “The Rock” and anything starring Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme as I’m on the precipice of passing out. “Tremors” is OUR cable movie. We both delight in the way McEntire closes her eyes when firing two six shooters simultaneously or the way Melvin (Bobby Jacoby) screams, “Burt, you asshole! There’s no bullets in this gun!”

The sad fact of the matter is most of the “Tremors” sequels suck worse than Nickelback. “Tremors: Shrieker Island,” now available on DVD, VOD and for streaming on Netflix, is the seventh installment of the franchise … and believe it or not it’s the second best of the bunch. The only other one I’d recommend is 2015’s “Tremors: Bloodlines.”

Gross once again returns to the role of Burt Gummer. He’s the only cast member to have been in every entry to date. Despite having 125 acting credits, I don’t really know Gross from anything other than “Tremors” and “Family Ties,” and I’d assert Gummer is far more iconic than Steven Keaton. (It warmed my heart to see the Chicago-born Gross switch from an Atlanta Hawks ball cap to a Chicago Cubs one in 2018’s “Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell” and maintain the change here.)

When we happen upon Burt he’s living a life of seclusion on a Thai island looking like an aged version of Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” Scientists (embodied by Jon Heder, Caroline Langrishe and Jackie Cruz) on a nearby island need assistance when their fellow inhabitants – a group of hunters fronted by the bastardly Bill (badass genre character actor Richard Brake) and his sharpshooter sidekick Anna (Cassie Clare) – generically engineer Graboid game. Burt, the best in the Graboid dispatching biz, reluctantly agrees to aid them despite personal grievances and general malaise.

The plot’s thin and the dialogue is often eye-rollingly bad, but “Shrieker Island” is one blast of a B-movie. The flick’s co-written and directed by Don Michael Paul, who helmed the previous two “Tremors” installments as well as an onslaught of different Universal 1440 Entertainment DTV sequels, i.e. “Jarhead 2: Field of Fire,” “Kindergarten Cop 2,” “Death Race 4: Beyond Anarchy,” “The Scorpion King: Book of Souls,” “Jarhead: Law of Return” and “Bulletproof 2.” He also wrote the awesome and entirely underrated “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” way back in 1991. Paul brings fun and style to the proceedings. He apes all sorts of other movies entertainingly – this picture’s carrying a big ol’ torch for “Predator.”

The cast generally comes to play. Gross can do Gummer in his sleep at this point, but by no means sleepwalks through the film. Heder is a welcome presence – he’s likable and not annoying – which says something as I generally haven’t dug the dude outside of his breakout role in “Napoleon Dynamite.” Brake’s a hoot here – he’s like a scuzzy Richard Branson blended with Lance Henriksen’s “Hard Target” baddie. Langrishe, Cruz and Clare are all lovely and acquit themselves well in their roles.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure – with “Tremors: Shrieker Island” and this man … it’s both.

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