JUNE 1, 2012
When they announced that the Feast team of John Gulager, Marcus Dunstan, and Patrick Melton would be behind Piranha 3DD, a sequel to Alex Aja's underwhelming 2010 remake, I was ecstatic. Not only do I love what these guys did on Feast and would thus be happy to see Gulager get a big theatrical release (Feast was only released for midnight screenings over a single weekend; the sequels went DTV entirely), but also they have the right mindset for this sort of thing and thus could be trusted to deliver as long as they had the money to do so.
See, my biggest issue with Aja's film is that he doesn't have much of a sense of humor. His repeated attempts to add human drama dragged down some of the bigger setpieces, and the first 50 minutes were kind of a drag as the few isolated incidents were seemingly just there to keep us from nodding off entirely. I knew Gulager and co. wouldn't fall to the same problem; if anything I was worried that I'd be exhausted by the time the fish got loose at the water park.
Well, I wasn't EXHAUSTED, per se, but there is a sense that they used up most of their best ideas by the time "Wet n' Wild" has its opening day and the punters are massacred by the piranha, who have managed to enter the park due to the owner (David Koechner) illegally drilling into the lake in order to save on the water utility. If I were to compile a "best gags" list for the film, nearly all of them would be prior to what should be the main event. The massacre seems somewhat subdued, as if they knew it would take a lot of work to top the one in the first film and thus looked to improve in other areas. There are some inspired moments near its very end (mostly involving a trident), but the stuff involving anonymous victims lacks any real memorable moments.
Then again, even for this sort of movie, how much can they possibly do? While the idea of setting them free in a water park is funny, the actual logistics aren't as ideal as an open water setting, where boats and other things can come into play. We've all been to water parks - those pools are not particularly deep or large. Even with the chaos, it takes almost no effort whatsoever to simply get out of the pool to safety, something they obviously realized themselves as they simply present a bunch of isolated gags, many of which were spoiled in the trailer. I couldn't help but wonder if they shouldn't have remade Piranha II: The Spawning and had the fish fly around, because then they could utilize the other (ground) areas of the park and have the best of both worlds. And not for nothing, but Gary Tunnicliffe is no KNB, so the gore/prosthetic value is diminished as well.
But the first 50 minutes are more successful than Aja's, I think. As before, we have a fun cameo in the opening scene that explains how the fish get free (after a recap of the first film's events, anyway - one of many things in the film that pad it out to a feature runtime), but it sets the tone nicely. Whereas before we had the death of poor Matt Hooper, now we have Gary Busey and the great Clu Gulager wading around in the water while night fishing and coming across a dead cow. The cow farts fish eggs, Busey lights a fart and causes the thing to blow up and send eggs and fish raining down around them, and then both men are killed (but not before Busey bites the head off of one).
And from there we get another bit every few minutes, like when two kids are fucking in a van by the lake and they accidentally pop the e-brake, which sends it rolling into the fish-filled water. Not everything is confined to the water, either - as anyone who has seen the trailer knows, a piranha swims its way into a girl's vagina during a romp in the lake, and it makes its reappearance later when her and her boyfriend are going at it in the "safety" of her bedroom. There's also a great bit where heroine Danielle Panabaker and her pal Katrina Bowden are besieged by the piranha while chatting on a little dock - it works like gangbusters because Bowden is clearly fish food by any normal measure, but even Panabaker could be killed. These are the Feast guys, after all, so you're OK to think that no one is safe as they played against expectations so well in those films (sadly they only rarely use this trick here, but it still adds some suspense that other filmmakers wouldn't have the benefit of employing).
The 3D is also much improved. Unlike the post-converted original (the worst conversion I've seen, in fact - though to be fair I skip most "Faux-D" releases, opting to pay the extra only for native 3D productions), this one was actually shot in 3D, so we're not constantly distracted by gonzo errors like disappearing characters and hair that seems to be protruding through one's face. Comin' at ya gags are thankfully kept to a minimum, and it adds a fun thrill park sense to the water slide shots and such. Then again, it also makes some of the film's low-budget oddities stick out all the more, such as the fact that Panabaker's bedroom resembles a prison cell. But it also has another benefit - it forced Gulager to slow down with his editing. Several big scenes in the Feast films suffered from confusing, rapid fire editing (in the dark to boot), but at no time was I having trouble deciphering what I was looking at. Story issues and budgetary limitations aside, it's his best film as a director - bright, colorful, and without any horrible FX like the bad greenscreens in Feast II.
Basically it's just silly, dumb fun, which is all I wanted in the first place. It's hard not to snicker whenever two characters have a heart to heart (one character harbors a long time crush on Panabaker), because who the hell cares about this sort of shit? We're here to see fish eating people who are preferably nude, and nothing else. Anyone who shows up to a movie called Piranha "3 Double D" and expects anything but crass nonsense is kind of missing the point. It might not go as far into bad taste as I would have liked (though there are not one but TWO dead children, making up for the first film's refusal to kill one), and it's barely a movie (65 minutes tops after you remove the endless end credits and opening scene recap), but I was laughing often and never bored, so in its small, underwhelming way, it still qualifies as a success. It's not hard to see why Dimension didn't opt for a wide release in this crowded field (the original Thanksgiving date would have been fun, though), and none of the 3D is amazing enough that you'd "have" to see it theatrically, but for those VOD viewers, I think it should mostly hit the spot if you're looking for brain-dead silliness.
What say you?