I remember when Tremors II first came out. I believe it was on the heels of a special edition laserdisc of the first film, but it might have been at the same time. Universal made a lot of direct-to-video sequels in the 1990s, but Tremors II was a little different. First, it was an actual sequel–writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock return from the first film, as do Fred Ward and Michael Gross. Second, it was at least an attempt at a real movie–instead of shooting Tremors II for television, it was shot for a theatrical aspect ratio (I guess that special edition laserdisc sold well, because the only widescreen advocates in 1996 were laserdisc buyers). Unfortunately, it still looks like it was shot for television and it still feels like a hackneyed direct-to-video sequel.
Not all of it is bad. Wilson and Maddock make their characters appealing–the stuff with Fred Ward and Helen Shaver is fantastic–and there’s still a lot of humor… but it’s not a real movie. No one’s really afraid of the monsters. Shaver loses a friend–watches the sequel’s new monsters eat off a leg–and is flirting with Ward twenty minutes later. There are some funny lines and funny details, but it’s NutraSweet overall. Ward stumbles a lot as some of his dialogue is terrible and, as his new sidekick, Christopher Gartin manages to be both agreeable and annoying. Gartin’s performance is agreeable, his character’s writing is annoying. But the big problem is that lack of fear. It’s a monster comedy, not a monster movie with comedy.
As for Michael Gross… he’s pretty bad for most of the movie. He’s got a few moments here and there, but his performance is an exaggerated repeat. He does what he did before, just amps it up a little bit; makes it cheesy.
Given the effects–done on the cheap–are excellent, the main problem falls on Wilson, who directed this one. He’s got no idea how to do establishing shots during scenes. The whole movie feels cheap because of the lack of these shots (regardless of its actual, frugal budget). He directs comedy scenes like “Mr. Ed” used to do. The inexperience is startling. With everything else trying (and maybe not succeeding) at making Tremors II more than a video cash-in, the director (slash co-writer) isn’t cutting it. He’s making it feel cheap. Worst is when he tries to mimic the Underwood crane style from the first film.
Tremors II is better than it should be–that Ward and Shaver romance standing out–but it’s a surprise, for the first film anyway. This one shows off how important having a good director can be.