September 9, 2010

Piranha 3D (09/09/2010)

Lettergrade: D-

I tend not to dig horror flicks much these days, but I have a soft spot for movies that are a little hammy, self-conscious, and satirical. Alas, Piranha 3D is not. A number of factors led me to believe that the flick would be a lot more fun than it turned out to be, some of which I'll get into below. Suffice to say that the movie's wit and sense of humor are like a thin layer of caramel that runs through a pint of ice cream: It adds some tasty accent here and there, yes, but it still feels mostly like you're eating vanilla.

In spite of some inspired tongue-in-cheek casting choices and some overly ridiculous uses of 3D, most of the movie is kinda mean-spirited and ugly. And then there's a scene where the piranhas attack a spring break party toward the end that rivals Saving Private Ryan in terms of sheer gore and gruesomeness. I'm not sure what I was looking for from this movie... maybe something more along the lines of Bride Of Chucky or Freddy Vs. Jason or even the disappointing Snakes On A Plane: All of which knew how to deliver some laughs while keeping the violence amusingly unrealistic. But as is, it's one of those movies that seems to be made for a bafflingly small audience, and I can't really recommend it to anyone for any reason.

But back to my reasons for plunking down the cash for a ticket in the first place. The first thing that caught my attention with this movie was that director Alexandre Aja was trying to get Joe Dante (who directed the original 1978 Piranha, a cheapie take-off of Jaws) and James Cameron (who got his directing break on 1981's Piranha II: The Spawning, but was later fired) to appear in the film as water safety instructors. Dante wanted to do it, but Cameron, who was busy making Avatar at the time, didn't. Nevertheless, the idea that Aja attempted an idea like that suggested to me that there was a perverse wit at work here that might just make one of those ridiculous so-good-it's-bad cult classics that I love watching with friends.

And then I heard about the cast. The scenery chowing Christopher Lloyd as a local doom-saying marine biologist. Elizabeth Shue as the cop. An actual speaking performance from the lovely Kelly Brook, a British super-model with world-renowned breasts and almost zero acting talent (and she's not shy about flaunting either!). Jerry O'Connell as a character so closely based on Girls Gone Wild's Joe Francis that there was almost a lawsuit (although he could have been more upset that they show his surrogate giving cocaine to a college freshman then getting his johnson bit off by killer fish more than anything). They even got Richard Dreyfuss to appear as a character named Matt, who dresses a hell of a lot like Dreyfuss's own Matt Hooper from Jaws and even sings the same tune that the earlier character sang with Quint and Chief Brody whilst fishing during the pre-credit sequence.

But again, all these clever / inspiring ideas find themselves in a pretty bloody, highly unpleasant movie. Several times during the flick, I had to look away from the screen, something I rarely do. Aja and his picture editor seemed to anticipate just how long audience folk like me might avert their eyes before attempting to look back at the screen... and then they held it a few seconds longer!

James Cameron has really come out against this movie, saying in an interview with Variety that its cheap, manipulative tricks are not what 3D is all about:
“I tend almost never to throw other films under the bus, but that (‘Piranha 3D’) is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the ’70s and ’80s, like ‘Friday the 13th 3-D.’”
As readers of this blog know (all three of you!), I hate 3D. And I think Cameron has got it completely dead-ass wrong here. Cheap 3D tricks are exactly what the format has always been about. If you're going to make a movie in 3D there had damn well better be things lunging out at you and random shit flying at the camera. That's what it's been about since it was popularized in the 50s in order to compete with the ever growing trend of people having new fangled television sets in their homes. Making a serious, dramatic picture with Oscar aspirations is not what 3D is all about. And frankly, after sitting through three goddamn hours of your 3D smurf epic last winter, I can't think of a single way in which having to wear thick, cumbersome glasses made the movie better. In fact, I would argue, that because 3D made your picture darker and less sharp that most people would have been better off seeing it the ol' fashioned way. You know, the way where color, depth of field and sharpness actually mean something.

3D is, and always has been, a cheap gimmick designed boost ticket sales. If nothing else, give Piranha 3D (and the upcoming Jackass 3D) credit for understanding that where you do not.

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