Piranha 3D: not the finest hour for Adam Scott or Elisabeth Shue
I wasn’t even going to bother reviewing this movie – you plunk down your cash for a movie like this and you get what you pay for, right? No, actually you don’t. You get ripped off and it’s only the mysteriously high number of positive reviews it’s getting that made me decide to bother watching it and now reviewing it.
If it makes you feel better, I suppose you can take Piranha 3D as a grisly French “fuck you” to empty American spring break culture, but you’re kidding yourself. Alexandre Aja’s ugly exercise in Nature vs. Man horror is itself as crassly stupid as the subject it would mock. Besides, the faceless, bikini and speedo clad mob that finally meets its gruesome end far too long into a boring picture could just as easily have been in Ibiza or Bali or any of dozens of other spots worldwide where youth meets sun, beach and booze. Americans don’t hold a monopoly on college age stupidity. Of course, neither you nor expect or want Piranha to be social commentary anyway, Right? We just want it to be goofy, bloody fun. Well, it’s goofy and bloody all right, but nothing more.
The problem is that the movie takes far too long to get going for the ultimate payoff to be worthwhile and it finally fails even as simple entertainment. In the first 2/3s, the stabs at humor and titillation only sap the movie of any suspense or horror it tries to build up. If the funny was… well… funny, it would work, but it isn’t. It opens with a smile-worthy cameo that might’ve been funnier if it hadn’t already been spoiled, but it also only serves to compare Piranha 3D to a film superior in every way. Besides, if I want gory comedy-horror, I’ll just rewatch Evil Dead 2 or Return of the Living Dead. This film doesn’t even come close to those in the humor department.
Things admittedly pick up a bit in the final third when Aja’s tone turns semi-serious and he cranks the brutality factor up to eleven. Here, with its crowd setting, the climax gets some bonus points for sheer scale and savagery – plus seeing a prominent horror director getting his head pinched off is probably worth a rental at least – but it’s all too little too late for a film that mostly displays a depressing lack of imagination or enthusiasm. There is one very effective sequence involving a stalled boat motor and a tangled mass of hair, but this bit of inventiveness is a rarity. The rest is mostly a joyless, bloody, repetitive slog – and mind you I’m talking about the highlight of the film.
In the end, celebrating the climactic piranha buffet to which the film builds is a little like marveling at a hill in Kansas. With nothing else going on around it, it’s probably impressive, but taken in the bigger picture it’s not much to get excited about. Even if the climax were perfection, it isn’t enough to hang a feature length film on and sadly Aja is forced to try to tell a story around it. Forget about how prehistoric piranhas manage to infect a resort lake in the Southwest. It doesn’t make any sense and it doesn’t really matter.
With a few other side branches, the important part of the story mostly boils down to a couple of innocent locals with a romantic backstory who find themselves on a party boat (again, the whys and hows are nonsensical and unimportant) piloted by a coked-up character (Jerry O’Connell) inspired by Girls Gone Wild impresario/creep Joe Francis. The innocents themselves are only interesting compared to O’Connell’s merry band of walking, talking tits and ass who aren’t, even in the extended underwater nude Sapphic ballet that everyone is making a fuss over. If I was 12, this scene might have been something, but in the jaded internet age it just seems quaint.
Beyond the female nudity, the other buzzed about moment revolves around the ultimate outcome for O’Connell’s character. It’s the thing that people talk about as they’re leaving the theater and it’s already been repeatedly spoiled across the internet by people who just can’t keep their traps shut. I won’t spoil it here because a movie with so few pleasures needs all the surprises it can get. This one isn’t much, but like that hill in Kansas, at least it’s something.
That leads us to the inevitable finale where the two innocents are ultimately imperiled. It admittedly has some impact, but this sequence and a couple of the other more clever deaths only make you wish they’d all been in a much more competent and yes, more serious movie.
One final word about the the truly atrocious post-filming 3D conversion cynically deployed for this film. I’d heard conversion horror stories regarding Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, but this is the first movie I’ve bothered to see in the format that wasn’t shot or animated in native 3D. Suffice it to say it’s something like looking through a View-Master on acid without the entertainment value of being on acid. Normally I’d just recommend you see a shoddily converted film in 2D, but the gimmick here admittedly adds some to the campy fun of the whole thing. If, despite all I’ve said, you must see Piranha 3D, see it in 3D in a theater with a bunch of like-minded (and preferably drunken) individuals or don’t see it at all. Obviously I vote for the latter, but it’s your money.
Piranha 3D. USA 2010. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg. Cinematography by John R. Leonetti. Original music by Michael Wandmacher. Edited by Baxter. Starring Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth, Jerry O’Connell, Steven R. McQueen, Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook, Adam Scott and Dina Meyer. 1 hour 29 minutes MPAA rated R for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use. 2 stars (out of 5)