"The guiltiest of guilty pleasure movies," that's how Eli Roth, recounting the sentiments of director Alexander Aja, described the conceptual approach to Piranha 3D. Eli did his best bad French accent as he regaled the Alamo Drafthouse audience with anecdote after anecdote about the director; a welcome prelude to this midnight screening. As someone who worships at the altar of guilty pleasures, a director's self-awareness of this characteristic always makes me a bit uneasy. Making a film as stupid as it can possibly be in the hopes that your being cognizant of its stupidity somehow legitimizes it does not a true guilty pleasure film make. In fact, I am of the opinion that most people can only pull off guilty pleasure by accident so hearing those words co-opted as Aja's directorial mantra flipped the switch on my pessimism machine.
And then the film started and all doubts were quickly chewed up and spit out. em>
Piranha 3D is about as guilty a pleasure as it gets, and I mean that as a compliment. It is disgusting, unapologetically base, and wholly indecent...and I loved every second of it. The death scenes are bloodier and more viscerally off-putting than anything you could have imagined given the trailer or even in full consideration of Aja's catalogue (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes). It employs a level of violence so unfettered as to seem less based in reality and more an approximation of a hard-R Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Every character, portrayed in majority by actors who have either already achieved cult hero status or are well on their way to earning that distinction, is exaggerated without being irritating and even those who exist merely to feed the fish strut their hour upon the stage with conviction.
But the real reason Piranha 3D works is its masterful tightrope walk along the line of intelligence and unfettered id. It is just clever enough to be legitimate while just intentionally moronic enough to not be accused of taking itself too seriously. When it's clever, it's both satirical and reverent to its source. If you went to see this film and didn't already love Joe Dante's Piranha, I'm just not sure what the draw for you was in the first place. Piranha, along with being a great early effort from Dante and a remarkably effective creature feature, is one of the better Jaws rip-offs ever created. In full genuflect to the film from which Piranha "borrowed," Piranha 3D opens with Richard Dreyfuss in a boat singing, what else, "Show Me the Way to Go Home." If that wasn't enough beautiful fan-pandering, Dreyfuss' character is named Matt. The send up of Girls Gone Wild entrepreneur, all around d-bag, Joe Francis in Jerry O'Connell's character was also smart as well as hilarious.
But of course, all this witty writing is tempered with superb gross-out gore and gratuitous, three-dimensional nudity to ensure maximum entertainment value. Why would a movie like this, with its 3D naughty bits tickle me so while a movie like My Bloody Valentine 3D pisses me right the hell off? i think it has to do with the source and the execution. The original Piranha, despite its flashes of quality, is a very silly film. Therefore elevating the silliness in direct proportion to the evolution of concept (i.e. the 3D) makes for enjoyable fluff that still manages to demonstrate respect to its source. Whereas the 1981 My Bloody Valentine is.an honest-to-goodness slasher film with very little in the way of silliness. Therefore remaking as a lackluster, obnoxiously insipid platform for 3D vagina is contrary to the source and frustratingly awful. Not to mention the situations developed for the 3D nudity in the Piranha remake are already established as being absurd and non-realistic (Girls Gone Wild filming sessions and drunken spring breakers) whereas those in MBV3D are only absurd because ofthe nudity exists.
I would not go so far as to call Piranha 3D perfect...because I am not an idiot. There are moments wherein the 3D is not fully realized and makes for a foggy resolution for the audience. There are scenes that are too dark to support the gimmick and it's hard to tell what we're actually seeing. But really, given all the rules that it establishes from frame one and the director's obvious intentions, Piranha 3D delivers on all fronts and actually surpasses itself in terms of both violence and intelligence. I advise taking a gaggle of your closest horror geek pals to a weekend screening, drinking lots of beer beforehand (or during if you are lucky enough to live within the jurisdiction of the Drafthouse), and get ready for a hell of a ride. Pay special attention to Christopher Lloyd in the film as every second of his channeling Dr. Emmet Brown from Back to the Future is side-splitting.