Rack Focus: Piranha 3DD

If you didn’t see Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D (2010), you missed a fiercely fun horror comedy that struck a balance between over-the-top gore and earnest wit while telling the tale of a Spring Break laid waste by an army of prehistoric piranha. Don’t believe me? Consider that film’s opening – a tongue-in-cheek vignette featuring Richard Dreyfus as a drunken fisherman whose boat is consumed by the monster fish, recalling both his character from Jaws (one of the finest films ever made) and the humble beginnings of “Nature Attacks!”-style horror before taking its own bite out of the genre.  

Let’s juxtapose that with the similarly structured vignette in Piranha 3DD, the sequel that premiered day-and-date in select videos and via most VOD services last week. Gary Busey plays a redneck looking to collect the carcass of a dead cow that has fallen into the river, and is also attacked by the slew of baby piranha currently hatching within the gassy corpse. While Busey is satisfyingly weird (he is known as a bit of a looper, after all), this sequence plays as only aware of its presence within a sequel and its ability to make a fart joke, and less aware of its placement in the pantheon of horror.

It’s a weaker opening, which properly sets the tone for Piranha 3DD, where everything has been comparatively taken down a rather considerable notch. Where the first installment was set in a lake, this film takes place at a poor man’s water park co-owned by marine biology student Maddy (Danielle Panabaker) and her stepfather Chet (David Koechner).

Maddy is a marine biology student who has helped run the park since her mother’s passing, but returns home from school for the summer to find Chet preparing to rebrand the business as the first-ever adult-themed attraction of its kind (complete with stripper lifeguards). To make matters worse, her friends (Katrina Bowden and Meagan Tandy) are either disappearing or getting violently ill, and she has to contend with the competing attentions of a high school crush (Matt Bush) and a horn-dog ex-boyfriend (Chris Zylka). Then David Hasselhoff shows up as a celebrity “life guard” for the park’s grand opening. What is a sexed-up, well-educated marine biologist-in-training to do with so much terror surrounding her?

All this happens before the piranhas get tired of playing second fiddle in their own movie and bite their way up the drains and into the unsuspecting pools, waterslides and swimmers’ faces. Between the boobs of the strippers and blood from their gaping wounds, Piranha 3DD accomplishes some pretty entertaining sequences when the occasion demands. There are some rather inspired moments with the fish, including a sequence where one of the fish swim up a naked girl’s vagina and lays in wait for an unsuspecting penis to latch onto. Just when you thought it was safe to dive back into the wetness, amIright? (Whose got me? Nobody? Well I’ll high five myself then. *slaps own hand sadly*)

But mostly, Piranha 3DD is just lazy. Sure, the original Piranha (1978) was just another of Roger Corman’s exploitation flicks,  but the 2010 remake was better, smarter, faster, and meaner than its source could ever be, and capitalized on the 3D gimmick better than anybody using the medium had done up to that point (and I am including Avatar). To follow up that flick with something so completely bland is to take our hard-earned attention for granted. And for us, the eager ticket buyer, knowing this concept can be entertaining makes it all worse than lame – it’s annoying.

There is a simple truth that terror-on-the-water stories are actually hard to keep compelling, because (as Hasselhoff repeatedly observes), “Everyone will be fine when they get out of the water.” Christopher Lloyd reprises his role as the cracked-out Dr. Carl Goodman (aka The Exposition), and he is stuck with even more junk science to unpack to keep the horror going. But even he can’t explain the film’s more nonsensical elements. Carnivorous fish that live for days inside the guts of a girl without water or any apparent appetite? Decapitating pool ribbons? To screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (also of the latter Saw films), I have to say, “Yes, we know this entire concept is ludicrous, but do you have to keep pointing it out? I’m trying to enjoy a movie here!”

Still interested in Piranha 3DD? You must be masochistic. If you must see it, skip the theaters (and the 3D prices) and head over to iTunes, Amazon, or Youtube to watch the film RIGHT NOW from the comfort of your luxurious computer chair.

For constant updates, follow @gsundt on Twitter.
For more of Gary’s reviews and musings, visit garysundt.wordpress.com.
For more information on Gary’s work as a filmmaker, visit summertimekillersmovie.com.

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