MOVIE OF THE DAY: Congo
June 1, 2012
THE DATES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’
June 2, 2012

REVIEW: Piranha 3DD

There isn’t too much to say about Piranha 3DD, the sequel to 2010’s surprisingly fab Piranha 3D. The first film was profoundly stupid, crass and cheesy. Some might say its charm was that it was knowingly all those things, but plenty of films know they’re being lowbrow and campy. That doesn’t make them good. Director Alexandre Aja managed to hit an unexpected verve of silly brilliance with Piranha 3D. It just worked. It was fun. But it is only fair to note that the bar was set rather low for Aja. The potential to catch us off guard was there. Which isn’t great news for Piranha 3DD, which has to work with less money and less stars, but significantly higher expectations too. You aren’t expecting 3DD to be a film of any artistic quality or integrity. You just want to know if it is as much audacious, barefaced (and bare-boobed) fun as the first film. No. But if there is to be a Piranha 3D franchise, it is a worthy enough lead off, I suppose.

It is a year after our nasty prehistoric piranhas devoured spring break on Lake Victoria. The lake was left uninhabitable and the touristy town has been abandoned. But, wouldn’t you know it, the piranhas have managed to find there way into another nearby lake, where Maddy (Danielle Panabaker), a marine biology student, co-owns a water park with her lecherous step-father Chet (David Koechner). Without Maddy’s permission, Chet has added an adult-themed section to the water park with “water-certified strippers” as employees, and renamed the park “Big Wet.” Maddy also finds out that Chet has built an illegal water intake system to avoid paying water processing fees. I think you can see where this is going. He’s getting water from the new lake full of piranhas. And those piranhas attack Big Wet’s opening day.

Piranha 3DD was directed by John Gulager, who made the delightfully gooey Feast trilogy, and he is an ideal man for this sort of film. Like Aja, you can sense that he is enjoying himself. And instead of drawing inspiration from the original Piranha II (James Cameron’s first film), I love that Gulager and his team decided to keep in mind that Joe Dante’s Piranha was a Jaws parody. So Gulager made 3DD a low-rent send-up of Jaws 3D, with a junky water park replacing Sea World. On a scene-by-scene basis, 3DD sorta works. It even has some nice bits. I enjoyed seeing Gary Busey and Clu Gulager (John’s father) as two rubes searching for their missing cow in a swamp. I always enjoy seeing Christopher Lloyd. David Hasselhoff actually manages to wring some more juice out of the dried-up schtick of parodying his Baywatch persona (partially because there is also a hint of drunk-cheeseburger-on-a-hotel-room-floor Hasselhoff parody in there too). And Gulager puts his own stamp on Piranha 3D‘s penis mutilation gag. Let’s just say this one involves Katrina Bowden’s vagina. All things considered, the film delivers on the T&A and mayhem. Its failure is on an overall story level.

It is tough when you’re following a movie so transparently dumb as Piranha 3D. Aja was skating dangerously close to the edge with that film. One misstep and it likely wouldn’t have worked. That is of course what made it so electrifying in its weirdness. 3DD has the thankless task of following that up. 3DD fails to really add up to anything. There is little to pull you forward here. And I think the biggest culprit is scope. There was a lot going on in Piranha 3D, and the film was further buoyed by a great cast. David Koechner is a decent replacement for Jerry O’Connell as the movie’s chauvinist asshole. But Danielle Panabaker and Matt Bush are not great replacements for Elisabeth Shue and Adam Scott (Bush also looks confusingly similar to co-star Jean-Luc Bilodeau; it took a couple scenes before I nailed down their characters). Not that I truly cared about the characters in the previous film, but I was engaged. I didn’t care whatsoever about Panabaker or her story. And I didn’t care too much about the piranhas either. I would have actually preferred to just watch a zany comedy about sleazy David Koechner and his R-rated water wark. All that stuff works like gangbusters.

Then we’ve got Ving Rhames. Didn’t Deputy Fallon die last time, you say? This is a horror movie. If we didn’t see him torn to shreds on camera, anything is possible. Turns out the piranhas just chewed off his legs. And I welcome him back with open arms. It is great to have such a relevant character return. The problem is, he isn’t exploited properly. Hasselhoff has substantially more screen-time. Probably this was a case where they could only afford Rhames for a couple days, but I really wish he had been one of our leads. These two films are connected, but forging an even stronger connection could have taken care of my don’t-give-a-shit level of engagement. Deputy Fallon is only at the water park by sheer coincidence on opening day, to get over his new-found fear of water. But I would have loved a story where Deputy Fallon was the one trying to shut down the water park, because he was convinced the piranhas would attack it. Make him the Chief Brody of this film. Maybe a single piranha already got into the park, but the police blamed the death on something else – “This was no boogie-boarding accident!” We already saw the first film, like Fulton we know what is up with the piranhas, so forcing us to follow Panabaker as she figures it all out is just boring. There is a sense of, “We know the fish are going to attack the water park, lets get on with it.”

MINOR SPOILER BELOW

Though Jaws 3D is the film’s source of inspiration, Gulager did take one page from Cameron’s Piranha II: The Spawning, which is adding a wrinkle of further evolution to the piranhas. In Cameron’s film the piranhas grew wings. I won’t say what the addition is in 3DD, but it really doesn’t matter because it is presented as a twist at the end of the film — something for Piranha 3DDD. I understand not wanting to blow your wad so early in a franchise, but having just rewatched Alien and Aliens, there is definitely some logic to going for broke. What if there never is a 3DDD? This film suffers from feeling so much smaller and second-run to Piranha 3D, taking the story in a radical or gonzo new direction would have helped a lot.

END MINOR SPOILER

Piranha 3DD is an amiable film, which makes me want to cut it some slack, but I can’t really. It simply isn’t enough; it’s not quite there. It feels like a DTV sequel. So it is certainly not worth you paying 3D premium prices. But if you loved the first film, this should serve as an acceptable Netflix distraction in the future. Unless of course you simply want to support theatrical horror movies. Which I respect. It’s your money.

[rating: 2]