Piranha 3D is the ultimate adolescent fantasy, suggesting an unholy marriage between Maxim and Fangoria consummated on the big screen in three dimensions. Like so many contemporary remakes, it bears only a passing resemblance to its ostensible inspiration: The only things it has in common with the Roger Corman-produced, John Sayles-scripted, Joe Dante-directed 1978 Jaws homage/parody are a bunch of piranhas with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. Then again, Dante’s infinitely superior original didn’t boast a naked underwater skank ballet or 3-D vomiting, so Piranha 3D has got that going for it.
Elisabeth Shue leads a large, overqualified, mostly wasted cast as the tough-as-nails sheriff of a coastal town facing a horrible invasion in the form of a hideous Joe Francis-like parasite (Jerry O’Connell, well within his wheelhouse of playing overly exuberant frat boys) intent on exploiting the local youth. The town then faces a slightly bigger threat in the form of swarms of rapacious prehistoric piranhas in feeding-frenzy mode.
Director Alexandre Aja established himself as a skilled craftsman of gory fare like High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes, yet he inexplicably wastes a good hour of the film with extraneous subplots involving O’Connell’s horndog sleaze merchant and a non-starting romance between the incredibly bland male teenage lead and his equally undistinguished female counterpart. Aja seems to have reserved all his energy and enthusiasm for an insanely bloody third act where the action literally devolves into a bloodbath and scores of extras meet unkind fates, particularly an unfortunate young woman who loses her bikini top in the most gruesome, least erotic fashion imaginable. Piranha 3D boasts at least two killer gross-out gags/deaths, although one has been spoiled by its prominent placement in the film’s commercials, and the other by a lawsuit Francis’ mouthpieces threatened to file against the filmmakers for defaming his character. (What character?) Piranha 3D realizes its guilty-pleasure camp potential for about a minute and a half, proving yet again that there’s no concept so foolproof filmmakers can’t screw it up.