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Strange Sightings from the Netflix Basement: Piranha 3-D

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With the onset of Halloween, a whole crap-load of horror movies have been unleashed upon the various streaming services.  There’s no way I can keep up with the quantity, so I decided to start at the bottom of quality and work my way up.  How do you know when the producers haven’t thought much about the life of the movie beyond theatrical?  They shoot it in 3-D.  Let’s check this out, shall we?


Dimension Films

Piranha 3-D (2010)

Piranha 3-D is a 3-D remake of the goofy Joe Dante/Roger Corman camp classic Piranha (1976).  The original was a low-budget tongue-in-cheek goof and featured Joe Dante regulars, Dick Miller and Kevin McCarthy and a memorable performance by Paul Bartel as the obnoxious camp counselor who gets his snoot bitten off by a piranha.  Joe Dante tells the story about how he had no budget for piranha effects so he was forced to film rubber fish in his swimming pool, added bizarre fish frenzy sound effects, and called it a day.  That movie is probably improved by having terrible special effects and playing it campy.  Piranha II: The Spawning was directed by James Cameron and is notorious for flying piranhas, and because it’s so bad, James Cameron bought back the film rights and buried the movie in the desert somewhere so it’s nearly impossible to find.  Then there was the cheapo Piranha (1995) which was from a phase when Roger Corman was making even lower-budget remakes of all of his movies even using the exact same scripts as the originals to save money.  That movie astonishingly re-uses the rubber fish in a swimming pool effects Dante created.  Wow.

So all of that brings us to Piranha 3-D, which has none of the humor of the original, none of the goofiness of flying piranhas, and cost a lot more than the cheapo one.  This movie seems to be going for a campy-cheesy vibe but it lands more on the side of sleazy and unpleasant.  Director Alexander Aja has made a not-at-all-scary, not-at-all-funny exploitation movie.  There are horrific gore effects, so that’s something.  But the biggest crime is that this movie has a pretty good cast, all of whom are wasting their talents in this crap.  I mean, Oscar-winner Elizabeth Shue shouldn’t be playing female Roy Scheider to some computer-generated fish and Ving Rhames surely had something better going on.  Adam Scott and Paul Scheer are both funny in everything else BUT this.  Eli Roth, yeah I know why he’s there.  And in an example of the quality of jokes, Oscar-Winner Richard Dreyfus has a cameo wearing his woolly cap from Jaws, and ignominiously gets computer-fish eaten before the opening credits.   See, that’s funny, right?

The plot is stolen from Jaws, of course.  For some reason, a spring break lake is under assault by prehistoric piranhas.  Sheriff Elizabeth Shue wants to shut down the lake, but the money-making interests in power refuse, so we have a series of computer-generated piranha-chompings that were clearly meant to be shown in 3-D, and look terrible on normal 2-D streaming.  We also have leftover 3-D gags like vomiting at the camera, power boat blade at the camera, and boobs at the camera.

Dimension Films

The only addition to the Jaws prototype is an unwelcome one as Jerry O’Connell, the obnoxious, sweaty, jerk-version of Jason Bateman, stars as an obnoxious, sweaty jerk producer of “Girls Gone Wild” style videos.  Far more screen time is spent on a scene of body shots and a ridiculous 3-D nude porn star underwater ballet that defines the word “gratuitous.”  Really, the only dramatic questions in the entire movie are 1) When will O’Connell get his much deserved Piranha nibbling and 2) How horrible will it be?  The answers are not soon enough and not horrible enough to justify any amount of time spent with this guy.

Everything about this movie is cheap and sleazy.  The effects are terrible.  There are maybe three attempted jump “scares.”  I used the word “scare” hesitantly as they are moments where a loud noise on the soundtrack syncs with an image suddenly popping into frame, but they are all telegraphed and are in no way surprising or “scary.”  Also, the copious amounts of bikini girls dancing and cavorting seem to be actual spring break partyers and it adds an extra level of tawdriness since they behave as if they are filming an MTV Beach Party video and they didn’t know they were actually appearing in a tacky, gory, un-scary horror movie.

Dimension Films

Every character in the movie is obnoxious except for Shue and Rhames.  Every male is leering and boob-obsessed and all of the women are horny and are merely potential butt-shots waiting to happen.  Elizabeth Shue is plucky and blood-splattered, but I didn’t need the scene of the actress in a tank-top dangling upside-down on a wire over a pool of jumping piranhas.  Seriously, Hollywood producers, find something better for the lovely and talented Elizabeth Shue to do.  It’s a travesty.

I spent the whole movie wishing the carnivorous fish would make their way through the cast much faster.  There’s also some obnoxious children who hang around just to be threatened by piranhas.  There’s also scenes spent on a pointless investigation of what happened to Dreyfus by Elizabeth Shue and Ving Rhames that serve no purpose except to pad out the wafer-thin plot.

Dimension Films

The main problem here is that Director Aja never quite figures out that piranhas just aren’t scary.  Joe Dante knew this and turned his movie into a Jaws parody.  There’s no way to shoot the bastards to make them horrifying.  They’re ugly little fish that aren’t at all dangerous in real life.  Every attack is a swirl of computer fish with bubbles and red food dye in the water.  Every underwater shot is dark and murky and out of focus.  Something like The Meg gets the comedy and the underwater horror parts right.  Alexander Aja’s shtick is showing really horrible graphic violence to people, but blended with the ridiculous premise of goofy man-eating piranhas, it just doesn’t work.  Aja is merely going for gore effects and boobs.  I guess you succeeded at your minimal ambitions, dude.

THE BOTTOM LINE

What do you call a horror movie that’s never scary or a comedy that doesn’t even have jokes?  I don’t know either, but it’s certainly not enjoyable.  Is it Jurassic Shark bad?  Of course not, that is the worst movie I’ve seen in the Basement.  But it’s scuzzy and it’s unpleasant to watch bikini babes torn to shreds, and there’s an extra level of sadness seeing great actors waste away in a cruddy production.  I’m guessing it’s far more thrilling in the original theatrical 3-D, but since it’s impossible to have that experience, this is what you get.

SPOILER ALERT: Jerry O’Connell gets half-eaten by primeval piranhas, then we get a 3-D effect of his dismembered penis floating in the water, then a fish eats the penis, then coughs it back up again and mugs to the camera.  Ha, freaking ha.

About Author

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I am a professional writer living in Van Nuys, CA. I have spent the last 20 years honing my sarcasm writing for the internet. I have two cats, a dog and an imaginary hairless mole rat.