THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
The original 1978 Piranha was conceived as a cheap Jaws knockoff, but director Joe Dante brought some real thrills to it, as well as a subtle sense of humor. Alexandre Aja's 2010 remake, Piranha 3D, added an extra dimension and served as a gloriously over-the-top tribute to exploitation cinema. It pushed the gore envelope so far that, rather than being offensive, it became a weird kind of insane fun. Now comes Piranha 3DD. That title alone gives you some idea what to expect. It also indicates the overall problem with the film. This one is almost total wink-and-nod comedy. While there is still plenty of gore, the filmmakers are clearly treating their work as a lark.
David Koechner plays Chet, a seedy businessman about to open a new water park. His big idea: replace all the lifeguards with strippers. (3DD – get it?) Danielle Panabaker is his stepdaughter, Maddy, who doesn't approve of the operation. If you didn't see Piranha 3D, the admittedly absurd premise was that prehistoric piranha had been trapped for eons in a sealed underwater cave, let loose only when an earthquake created a rupture in the cave wall. Now those piranha find themselves sharing a water source with Chet's park, and making their way toward it in search of food (i.e. strippers and guests). Yes, that's right – killer piranha in a freakin' water park! After figuring out what the fish are up to (don't ask), Maddy tries to convince him to cancel the grand opening. Chet refuses – he's hired David Hasselhoff to make a personal appearance, after all – and before long he's got a bloodbath on his hands.
Piranha 3DD was directed by John Gulager. If you watched Bravo's “Project Greenlight” TV show, you may recall him as the season three winner, who got to direct the horror movie Feast. I think Gulager knows how to have some fun with blood and gore. He gets in a couple of clever “kills,” and one sequence, involving two women on a dock that's falling apart, is well-staged. Unfortunately, he's been saddled with some limitations. For starters, the budget was clearly pretty low, which means the special effects are poor. While nowhere near Birdemic-level bad, the killer fish look like unconvincing CGI creations, which generally robs them of any menace they might have.
The other limitation is the script by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston (also “Project Greenlight” vets). There are certainly some funny moments scattered throughout, especially in the scenes where Christopher Lloyd and Ving Rhames appear, reprising their roles from the previous film. (The best joke is that a character played by comedian Paul Scheer, who disappeared inexplicably from Piranha 3D, suddenly returns here.) What's missing from the script is an actual story. For all its craziness, Aja's film started with slow menace and then built tension by having the characters put the pieces together, gradually realizing that a catastrophe was coming. Piranha 3DD, on the other hand, opens with a silly scene in which Gary Busey deals with a flatulent cow and then gets sillier from there. No one seemed to care about pace or mounting tension. The movie plays as though it's one big in-joke. Strippers getting eaten! Boobs thrusting toward the camera! David Hasselhoff saving people while the “Baywatch” theme plays! The humor is fine, but it needed some convincing horror and a semi-coherent story to surround it. Even the film's running time suggests apathy: the end credits start to roll after a mere 70 minutes, followed by 12 minutes of slow-moving credits and dull bloopers.
Piranha 3DD is not bad, per se, but it's definitely misguided. There are scattered laughs and some suitably gruesome death scenes. (The picture has a strange fascination with piranha invading people's sexual organs.) It's just not as outrageous as it should be. The constant attempts to go for silly humor undermine the parts that could potentially be chilling. Lightening terror with some self-knowing humor is one thing; constantly poking you in the ribs to let you know not to take anything seriously is quite another. Piranha 3DD just doesn't measure up to the Piranha pictures that preceded it. They nailed the horror/comedy balance, while this one does not. With its too-short runtime, sloppy sense of plotting, and poor CGI, Piranha 3DD feels like a cheap-o, direct-to-DVD sequel that somehow got a more prominent summer release.
( out of four)
Note: Piranha 3DD is having an unusual release. It's playing theatrically on only 86 screens, but it's also available on VOD in both 2D and 3D formats. Because it's not playing at a theater near me, and because I don't have a 3D TV, I had to see the 2D version. Truth be told, outside of a few obviously gimmicky shots, there wasn't much here that appeared to take advantage of the format. I suspect few people will be happy to have shelled out the extra bucks for the 3D version.
Piranha 3DD is rated R for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 22 minutes.
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