We live in a cynical time. That’s just reality. And nothing proves that more than movies like Piranha 3DD, the latest in the sure to be long line of remakes (or, more accurately, rehashes) of the endearingly bad original films from the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Piranha 3DD is a movie that walks the walk of what one would expect from a boobs and beasts-heavy exploitation film, yet somehow it feels tawdry and lacking in the spirit of fun and innocence that makes all of those older versions so much fun to revisit.
The last film saw the vacation town of Lake Victoria desecrated by a rogue band of piranha that were released by an underground tremor from the underwater cavern in which they’d been dwelling for decades. Having handily exhausted that buffet of nubile college-age flesh, those wily amphibious carnivores have moved on to another magnet for the young, horny and silicon-enhanced: a newly opened waterpark (with a gated adults-only section) called “Big Wet.”
Danielle Panabaker (continuing her bid to become cinema’s “remake scream queen” – you might remember her from the Friday the 13th remake or from The Crazies, a reimagining of a George Romero film) plays Maddy, a bright marine biology student who’s just returned home for the summer to find that her slimy step-father (David Koechner) has turned the waterpark that belonged to her recently-deceased Mother into a sleazy innuendo-laced destination for people who like to go topless and bang in public pools. Naturally she’s horrified but since her Mother only left her 49% of the property, she’s powerless to do anything about it even after she discovers that Piranha are making their way into the park through the filtration pipes and are getting super-amped from the extra chlorine being used to kill the bacteria in the STD-laced water.
Director John Gulager (creator of the awesome film Feast and its less-than-awesome sequels) goes for broke in the blood and breasts (not to mention bloody breasts) department in a way that should be hilarious but just ends up feeling calculated and blasé about all of the over-the-top action. I mean, this is a movie that boasts cow farts, a “cooch cam” and David Hasselhoff as major plot points yet still manages to affect an “over it,” eye-rolling tone as though its own audience is just so lowbrow for even sitting through this.
Still, Piranha 3DD manages to be slightly more entertaining than its 2010 predecessor mainly thanks to funny cameos from Gary Busey and Hasselhoff (who gamely makes fun of his public image) as well as Christopher Lloyd and Ving Rhames who reprise their roles from the first film. Panabaker is also a solid, dependable-type heroine even if her friends (30 Rock’s Katrina Bowden, Chris Zylka and Meagan Tandy) and potential love interests (manly-but-cowardly Jean-Luc Bilodeau and nerdy-but-brave Matt Bush) are little more than lightly sketched piranha bait.
Writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (Feast, many SAW sequels) clearly had fun creating the world in which this film is set and that comes across, but the film’s leering, perverted spirit defeats what would have otherwise made this an effective throwback to vintage trash cinema.
As it stands, Piranha 3DD is best described by one of the characters in the film as he looks at the raucous waterpark and shakes his head, “This is a very expensive joke.” And not even a very funny one at that.