Somehow in the late summer of 2010 Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D eluded me and so coming into its sequel, John Gulager’s Piranha 3DD, I was left to fend for myself in terms of plot. Believe it or not, I was able to keep up. The reputation of the first movie (which is, in fact, a remake of Joe Dante’s Piranha from 1978) is that of campy fun, a tongue-in-cheek excuse to show naked bodies and squirting blood. I am not indifferent to those qualities in a movie. Meaning and depth are wonderful things for movies to have, but brainless exploitation of America’s love of breasts and blood has its place as well. The place for Piranha 3DD, however, is in a garbage can, buried beneath a pile of other garbage cans, sealed in a Dumpster and placed in the bowels of an unmanned ship and then shoved off to sea with a hole in the hull. That this movie, which is so abjectly horrible, is being shown to human beings, and that they have the gall to ask people to pay for it makes me weep for the world. Friends, I have seen Von Stroheim’s four-hour Greed (1924), Bergman’s five-hour Fanny and Alexander (1976), Feuillade’s six-hour Les Vampires (1915), Lanzmann’s nine-hour Shoah (1985), and Kieslowski’s ten-hour The Decalogue (1989), and Piranha 3DD is the longest movie I’ve ever sat through, and it gives us just seventy minutes of story and then fifteen of inane skits and outtakes.
Perhaps I’m a snob. Perhaps I’m the old man shaking his cane at a world that’s passed him by. How dare I bring such an unbending sourness to a movie about fish that eat naked women. Lighten up, you old codger, it’s not supposed to be Citizen Kane (1941) and the movie doesn’t want to be. All that’s fine; I believe I have the capacity to enjoy a movie about fish that eat naked women; I think the original Piranha is a terrific send-up, a lot of fun. But I will never enjoy Piranha 3DD because it insists so stringently on being a sub-movie, an assault on invention and tone. The elements are so well established (rubber fish, cornstarch, impossibly dimensioned women running while framed between their necks and their knees) that you would think making a gory summer diversion would take care of itself, but apparently not. Piranha 3DD is so bankrupt of thought, joy, and imagination that I simply cannot let it off the hook and get into the “spirit of it.” The movie has no spirit. In fact, it has nothing of its own at all; it can only take. It’s taken the time of everyone who has seen it, the dignity of every performer who appears in it, and a little of the faith in humanity that this writer once had. I feel the worst for editors, who had to spend more time with it than anyone else.
You know the plot. Ancient piranhas are terrorizing an Arizona community, first in the lakes in isolated cases as the movie’s mind-numbing first act shows us. This is all set-up for the pointless, consequent-free, artistically stagnant final half in which the piranhas infiltrate a water park. I will now tell you of the movie’s most inventive sequence, which will illustrate the baseness of the enterprise as well as its place as the hub of the land of the dull and the uninteresting. A woman and man go skinny-dipping. During the swim, a baby piranha enters into the woman’s vagina, where it lies in wait, almost completely unnoticed, for a number of days. When the woman and her boyfriend make love,* the piranha bites the man’s intruding member, leading to the man’s thoughtful decision to amputate his own manhood. For my money, that guy is let off easy. This little episode occurs about halfway in and then he’s carted off on a stretcher, never to be seen again. I had to stay and watch the rest of the movie.
The movie never succeeds in building anything worth watching. It’s not even entertainingly bad, it’s just dull and unamusing. If it happens to stumble upon a good comic bit, it drives it into the ground. It labors during the gory scenes too, telegraphing the pop-out moments, then not even having those moments be effective. Even the fish look terrible. When you go into a movie with a title like Piranha 3DD, you expect to be shocked and outraged and that’s the most damning thing about the movie. It’s not audacious; it’s boring and desperate.
We’re just approaching the halfway mark of the year, and the best and worst movies so far are in the same genre: the gory spoof. I hope that The Cabin in the Woods is surpassed as the best movie of the year, but I pray that Piranha 3DD remains the worst. If I were to give Piranha 3DD as much thought as it gives to itself, the people in it, women in general, or the audience, I wouldn’t have even started writing about it. It was a dreadful experience. If Jaws made people never want to go in the water again, Piranha 3DD draws me to it, just to wash myself off.