Piranha 3D really exists for only one reason: to show us douchebags being eaten alive by crazed, killer fish. And Aja has brought both the gratuitous nudity and the gratuitous gore. There are moments, such as the 3-minute long underwater ballet between two fully nude models, in 3D no less, where it delivers brilliantly on all of its B-movie potential. There’s also the scene of the piranha feasting on Jerry O’Connell’s dismembered penis. And then regurgitating it. In pieces.
But yet, that moment doesn’t completely work because said penis, and the fish, are completely CGI. The CGI fish themselves are good for a few unintentional laughs, but most of the movie just doesn’t hit where it should. O’Connell is basically playing douchebag Joe Francis, creator of the Girls Gone Wild series. But part of the problem is that O’Connell is such a craptastic actor that his death doesn’t elicit the same emotional response as if we were seeing the real Joe Francis eaten alive by killer fish, or even perhaps Joe Francis as played by a higher-caliber douchebag, say Mark Wahlberg, eaten alive by killer fish. And whatever happened to the fat Jerry O’Connell from Stand By Me? That kid actually had some acting potential. But instead he went to the gym, lost the baby fat and got all worked out, and now he’s one of the worst no-talent hacks in the business. He can’t even play a douchebag very well; he visibly works too hard at it. But I digress. We do get to see infamous Hollywood hack douchebag “director” Eli Roth playing a wet T-shirt contest judge, so for all intents and purposes playing himself and therefore not something he has to work hard at in the least, get his head decapitated by a speedboat… but as the guy in front of me said during the movie, “I wish that would happen to him for real.”
Piranha 3D has basically been selling tickets because of a lot of positive reviews calling it fun. But make no mistake about it, these must be the same reviewers who gave good reviews to the brainless Snakes on a Plane. I’m not against gratuitious nudity and gore and the maiming and masticating of famous Hollywood douchebags per se; I just want my dumb fun presented in an intelligently designed movie. But this isn’t a smart-dumb movie, it’s just a dumb-dumb movie. There’s one fish-attack set piece in which we get to see a lakeful of Havasu-like party idiots eaten en masse, and then there’s the finale on a boat, and that’s essentially it. Not much of a plot, not much development, terrible dialogue, and characters doing things that are ridiculously idiotic, even for drunk fratboys. I’m pretty sure you’re not going to stop a school of killer fish by shooting a pistol into it, but that seems to be the default mode for any character with a gun.
Richard Dreyfuss is totally wasted trying to give the movie some credibility in a brief opening cameo, and the film’s two arguable leads, played by likeable and solid actors Elizabeth Shue and Adam Scott, get remarkably little screen time. They show up completely game and willing to give their all in a B-movie, but they just have so very little to do. And I’m still trying to figure out why Ving Rhames agreed to be in this, because he gets even less screen time and his “big moment” makes less sense than shooting into a school of fish with a pistol. Other than that, the movie plays it so straight with all of the douchebags getting their due and all of the wholesome archetypes making it out alive, that it simply abides too strictly to genre convention for it to have any real… wait for it… teeth. There’s plenty of room in the subject matter to really skewer a certain section of our culture, but the opportunity for anything subtle and subversive is quickly cast aside with a few broad strokes. The only thing to really applaud about Piranha 3D is the prosthetics and make-up, and those departments really went full-out and should received full credit for any of the film’s box office take.
When Aja released his debut film Haute Tension, he showed remarkable promise as a director, but each subsequent release, from The Hills Have Eyes remake to Mirrors to this, have been a step down. I’m not sure what he can do to lower the bar after this one. I think it’s Uwe Boll time.