Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fish Food: PIRANHA 3DD

I looked up what I wrote about Piranha, Alexandre Aja’s 2010 3D remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 creature feature, and found that I called it “gratuitous in every possible way.” It served up attractive spring-breakers in and out of swimsuits while tension built to the bloody end, which chummed the water with enough gore to fill a half-dozen horror flicks with lower body counts. I wrote, “I liked just enough of it to wish it were better.” It didn’t win me over like it did its small collection of defenders, but I could see that it was self-aware of its own genre status and enjoyed wallowing in it. I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone’s enjoyment of this particular film’s trashy interests. I know I did from time to time, even if I ultimately left the theater feeling, on balance, more negative than positive towards it all.

Now we have Piranha 3DD.  Its predecessor’s central question was “What if we made a bad movie, but were so aware of what we were doing, and so energetic about our exploitative elements, that we ended up with a good movie?” This lifeless sequel that stinks of desperation at every turn seems to proceed from the question “What if we made a bad movie?” Now, I don’t mind partaking in some deliberately trashy filmmaking. I’ve already admitted to enjoying some of Piranha’s low charms and found David R. Ellis’s immortal Snakes on a Plane to be some level of fun. Here are films that know what simple-minded premises they have, are reasonably well made from a technical standpoint, and have just enough winking bemusement that some can be convinced to give them a pass. (I feel no shame admitting to a weakness for Snakes on a Plane. Of course I haven’t seen it in years. It might not hold up to a repeat viewing.)

Anyways, Piranha 3DD has been handed off to director John Gulager, winner of one of the seasons of the Project Greenlight reality show. He ended up making the low-budget horror movie Feast, one of the most noxious and slapdash films of its ilk in recent memory, and then followed it up with not one, but two direct-to-DVD sequels, the viewing of which I have not made a priority. This new movie, written by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan, and Joel Soisson, relocates the titular piranhas from the inland lake spring break of the first movie to a waterpark run by a slimeball (David Koechner) with a sleazy idea for how to boost profits. See, he hired “water-certified strippers” to lifeguard a walled-off section of the park he calls an “adults only” pool. His stepdaughter (Danielle Panabaker), home from college where she’s studying to be a marine biologist, isn’t happy about this. She’s all the more worried when she and some friends are nearly eaten by, what else, a piranha in the nearby lake.

The plot, such as it is, is a dull drag to the park’s opening day, where the splashing park patrons will get set upon by a pack of piranhas that find their way through a drain pipe out of the lake and into the pools. But because the pool isn’t as packed with partying jerks as the first movie’s lake and the debauchery is mostly low-key and cordoned off, the kick of seeing anonymous extras taken down isn’t satisfying in the slightest. The bloodbath of the first film may have been too much for me to take, but it’s certainly far more enjoyable than seeing families, kids, and elderly people splashing about in terror in the shallow end of a pool. Besides, why don’t they just get out of the pool? And why don’t the waterpark’s employees think to drain the pool sooner? And when they decide to, why is it so difficult?

There’s very little of narrative interest here. The characters are incredibly thin, even by bad creature feature standards. There’s a little romance for the stepdaughter, a wimpy guy (Matt Bush) who can’t swim (think that’ll be important later?) and a crooked deputy (Chris Zylka). There’s also a dumb blonde (Katrina Bowden) who, early on, gets a baby piranha stuck in a very uncomfortable place without even really noticing it. Later, when it emerges and bites off her boyfriend’s privates, she runs bloody and shocked down the hall, finds her friends and informs them of this elaborate body horror in a tone of voice that one might use when asking to borrow a cup of sugar. Basically, these characters are here to state the obvious, go completely unprepared for the climactic buffet, and pad the runtime to feature length.

It’s advertised as an 83-minute movie but, by my count, the credits rolled a little bit past the 70-minute mark, which means that the endless bloopers and outtakes under the end credits take up about 15% of the movie. And keep in mind that this is a movie that finds time for Gary Busey to accidentally blow up a flatulent cow, for David Hasselhoff to lamely cameo as himself, and to shoehorn in supporting characters from the first movie, like Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames and Paul Scheer, the latter seemingly there only to collect stories for How Did This Get Made?, his podcast celebrating bad movies. This is one of those movies where seemingly nothing could go right, not even a little bit, not even by accident.

Beyond the mindless plotting, essentially nonexistent characters, and padding, the biggest problem here has to be Gulager himself. I don’t want to be too mean here, but he’s a remarkably untalented director. With his clumsy blocking, awkward pacing, and half-hazard effects, his anti-style manages to dismantle even the slightest hints of tension or energy that creeps up into the performances and the script. His direction of the setpieces, such as they are, manages to turn them into lifeless lumps of movement devoid of flow or excitement of any kind. It’s like he set out to deliberately make a bad movie, which he may very well have. But it takes a lot of work to make even a bad movie. It might take even more work to make a good bad movie. And this one feels so dashed off and lazily made that it can’t even flop over the painfully low bar it sets for itself.

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