Marine biology student Maddy returns home to find that her stepfather, Chet, has turned the friendly water park that they both inherited from their late mother into a seedy resort called Big Wet which features strippers as lifeguards, wet t-shirt contests and topless pools. In order to provide cheap water for the park, Chet illegally drilled into an underwater lake. Unfortunately for everyone, the underwater lake is home to the prehistoric piranha which attacked nearby Lake Victoria. On the opening day of Big Wet, the piranhas swim up the drilling pipes and into the pools.
Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3-D was one of the highlights of 2010: a delightfully gratuitous middle-fingered salute to the bastions of cinematic good taste with its unhealthy array of fishy violence, a year’s supply of fake blood in just one shoot, more boobs than a porn convention, not to mention a strong cast who weren’t afraid to send themselves up and a story which finely balanced itself between parody and serious. A definitive B-movie with a big budget and even bigger promotional juggernaut behind it, Piranha 3-D was the rare instance where everything seemed to align perfectly for the ultimate success story against all of the odds. With a strong box office performance, even better DVD/Blu-Ray sales and more importantly, pretty resounding critical acclaim, the film was a shoe-in to receive a sequel.
Only Alexandre Aja wouldn’t be back at the helm and, leaving with him that real sense of perverse violence. If you’ve seen any of his serious horror films, then you’ll know that he can deliver the grim and the intense in equal measure and for all of its cartoon comedy and overblown excess, Piranha 3-D still had a warped sense of the extreme flowing beneath where you knew that you shouldn’t laugh and smile at the violence and gore but it was a nervous laugh because of the underlying cruelty. And that was why Piranha 3-D worked better than it had any right to do.
John Gulager, fresh off the Feast trilogy, was handed the reins to direct this sequel and if you’re familiar with those films, specifically the two junky sequels, then you’ll know exactly the sort of direction that Piranha 3DD is heading. Going into overdrive with the absurdity and ridiculousness, Piranha 3DD is quite possibly one of the worst sequels of all time and easily one of the biggest disappointments of the year. How hard was it for Gulager to mess up the key ingredients that made the original work?
Virtually a lower budget, scaling down of the original, the film’s first mistake is confining the bulk of its action to a small, self-contained water park as opposed to the rivers and lakes of the original. Not only does this lead to incredulous plot devices of how the piranha manage to infiltrate the park in the first place, but it shortens the life span of any tension that may come from the attack scenes. Having piranha attack a flotilla of partying teenagers in a deep-water lake is one thing – having them swim around in small, man-made ankle-deep pools is just not scary in the slightest.
The film barely comes home with a time of eighty-three minutes as well, a disgrace when you consider that there are ten minutes of outtakes and bloopers tagged on to an overlong credits sequence. With such a short running time, you’d think that the rest of the film would go at it like a bull in a china shop to make sure not a second is wasted but there’s plenty of filler throughout. I think it’s simply a case that someone had a couple of clever ideas about the piranha in a water park and then built up an entire film around them.
The main problem with Piranha 3DD is that it tries way too hard to be hilarious and outrageous. In trying to out-do the original’s tongue-in-cheek approach, Gulager is guilty of making throwaway moments a major deal. Take for instance Jerry O’Connell’s severed penis from the original, a scene which provoked laughter (and a great deal of seat-shuffling and leg crossing from the male audience) and terror at the same time. That scene is rehashed here with more focus on the deadpan and comedy instead of the horror of male castration, with the resultant scene providing one of the worst lines of all time. The majority of the film’s comedy just falls flat on its face because it is too stupid to laugh at – funny to drunken frat boys maybe, not to anyone else watching. Piranha 3DD almost turns into a parody, something that the original was always keen to keep away at arm’s length.
There is a well-cast line-up of characters to bring life to this story though. Christopher Lloyd and Vang Rhames add continuity by reprising their roles from the first one and it’s a shame that some of the others couldn’t return. Rhames’ role is somewhat pointless (didn’t he die in the original?) but at least Lloyd is able to get a few more minutes screen time than he did before. It’s still a criminal waste of his talent to be shoehorned into a five minute cameo but at least he’s back. As far as the newcomers go, David Koechner makes for a particularly unpleasant loudmouth and is perfectly cast in the role of the slimy Chet. He gets one of the film’s best and most distasteful scenes as he tries to make a getaway from the chaos at the park. The younger cast aren’t particularly impressive, with the majority of them filling the usual token teenager roles. Danielle Panabaker is likeable enough in the lead role but the gorgeous Katrina Bowden steals the show with a line of dialogue that would make John Barrowman’s infamous line from Shark Attack 3: Megalodon sound like Macbeth (Youtube it if you don’t know).
The main star of the film is the turn by David Hasselhoff. So often the butt of jokes about his acting ability, ‘The Hoff’ has now gone full circle and embraced his deficiencies, playing up on these jokes and becoming self-aware of his own limitations as an actor. His self-mocking performance is a riot, tearing apart his Baywatch role as a lifeguard completely out of his depth when the piranhas attack the water park. Worth sitting through the rest of the film for? Not quite, but those who have stuck through the rest of the film will at least find themselves finally being entertained.
Piranha 3DD is a catastrophic flop. The decision to debut it in less than 100 theatres in its opening weekend in the US (a travesty considering that the original made $83m in the box office) shows that little faith was instilled in it from the start by the suits in the boardroom and this is reflected in the final product – a shallow, shameless rehashing of the original. Good-natured gratuity has been replaced by ill-fated juvenility and no doubt sounding a death knell to a possible resurgence of big budget splatter comedies.