By: Addison Wylie
There’s a big difference between films that are “so bad, it’s good” and just being “plain bad”. Let’s focus on that former phrase for just a moment. The phrase “so bad, it’s good” tends to get thrown around a lot recently. Usually movies that have poor acting, a dull script, and catastrophic directing get labelled as this because they are so over-the-top, that audiences can’t help but find enjoyment out of it. The recent Nicholas Cage vehicle The Wicker Man has been my “so bad, it’s good” entry. It’s a film that is completely devoid of any direction and is so over-the-top, my mind seemed to go off track along with the movie and I started laughing away at Cage sucker punching anything in his way while being dressed up in a bear costume. I digress though. However, The Wicker Man is a good example of a director and cast wanting to make a good film which, I suppose, segways into my next point. Recently, there have been studios who want to make movies that are purposely bad. They want to make films that are so exaggerated that audiences will tell their friends about ludicrous the movie was. Snakes on a Plane is an example of this filmmaking. A movie that realized how much of a joke it was and actually went back and reshot extra material to make the film even more crazy, including Samuel L. Jackson’s infamous line the movie is most remembered for. But again, I digress. These films haven’t been the most profitable movies at the box office and the idea of making a bad movie on purpose was seeming like an outdated gimmick. However, now that 3D technology has been reintroduced into the world of cinema, the idea is now back and firing on all cylinders. Enter Piranha 3D. A self-aware, for the most part, horror/comedy remake about killer piranhas that terrorize a lake during Spring Break. At the sheer mention of the synopsis for Piranha 3D and after looking into the film a little more, people have been amped to check out the latest “so bad, it’s good” movie. But cinema-goers should be warned. It may appear to be fun, and don’t get me wrong there are amusing instances in Piranha 3D, however, the film ultimately feels like it should belong in the latter category mentioned at the beginning of this ultimately lengthy introduction.
For those who want a little bit more insight into the film other than the main sell point of the movie, let me fill you in. The film takes place in a small town as the teenage population take part in Spring Break rituals. These rituals, of course, are drinking, sex, nudity, and more drinking. Our main hero is Jake Forester, played by Steven R. McQueen; a youthful, innocent teen trying to take part in the Spring Break events. However, like year after year, his Sheriff mother Julie, played by Elisabeth Shue, must have Jake babysit his younger siblings. She cannot find anyone to look after the kids during these hectic times and it is her job to patrol the community along with her close partner Deputy Fallon, played by Ving Rhames. Jake reluctantly accepts but cuts a deal with the siblings so that he can go out and enjoy the celebrations. While partaking in the entertainment, Jake meets up with a video producer named Derrick Jones, played relentlessly by Jerry O’Connell. Derrick makes videos for a knock off Girls Gone Wild video series and he wants Jake to be his location scout. Jake agrees and him, Derrick, Derrick’s girls, and Kelly, Jake’s love interest, boat off into the cove. Before all this Spring Break insanity though, an older man fishing has accidentally created an underwater tremor releasing, what seems like, thousands upon thousands of deadly, prehistoric piranhas. It is up to Julie, Fallon, a small team of underwater explorers, and Christopher Lloyd to find out why these fish exist and stop them before they wreck havoc.
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From reading the film’s detailed synopsis, the average film goer can instantly realize that the script isn’t the main selling point here and I think screenwriters Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg realize that. They have gone out to penn a script that over amplifies the sex and violence aspects to these Monster Nature films that were successful in the 50’s while providing a few scares. With that said, they were successful. The script never takes itself too seriously and has its tongue firmly set in cheek throughout. There is a scene that is pure nostalgia that features Lloyd’s character, a fish expert, providing background details on the deadly piranha. The scene is extremely cheesy and so overly melodramatic, that the audience eats it right up. The audience also gets a kick out of the gratuitous nudity featured throughout the movie. There are wet t-shirt contests abound and a nude underwater ballet-esque sequence that boggles your mind as to why it’s in there. It was after that scene in particular that it hit me that if I found out that Goldfinger and Stolberg were actually two thirteen year old boys entering puberty, I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, that’s what the script ultimately comes off as. It’s a thirteen year old fanboy’s wet dream come to life and in 3D. This could sound like a complete train-wreck but, as stated before, these two know exactly who they’re aiming this movie for and they are completely comfortable with throwing everything at the wall. Not all of it works though. The first two thirds of the movie are very slow and have pacing issues. We get countless scenes where the movie is actually trying to sell its audience a plausible plot. This is where the film slows down because the audience isn’t being given what they were promised. If you market a film as a killing spree with piranhas and naked girls, don’t give the audience an hour’s worth of story development just for it to be worth nothing in the end. The writing duo spends way too much time getting to the main selling point of the film. Sure, there are some interesting deaths and jokes peppered in but they are few and far between. Also, the film features the most abrupt ending I’ve seen in recent memory and where it will work for some, it didn’t work for me. It came off as if the duo had run out of ideas, shrugged, and staples all their pages together. The script is very fun when it eventually gets to the actual insanity of it all but subsequently feels like a bit of a cop out.
The main problems with the film lie with the director, Alexandre Aja. I’ve been a big fan of this director’s work in the past. I think High Tension was one of the better horror/thrillers of the past decade and his american horror films, The Hills Have Eyes and Mirrors, have been well directed and have left a big impact on me after viewing them. However, those films were straight horror films and I think that’s where his main forte is because here, it shows that he is not fully qualified to be tackling a project such as this. Piranha 3D calls for a goofy, fun time with its tongue firmly in cheek but it seems as if Aja wants to present this as a joyous romp but also make it a straight horror film too. He wants to have his cake and eat it too and that can’t work in a movie like Piranha 3D. It’s either one or the other and, overall, the film feels unbalanced because of his direction and, perhaps, the long drawn out instances of needless development in the script. It felt as if there was some confusion with the actors as well. The older actors, such as Shue, Lloyd, and Adam Scott, know they are in a film about killer piranhas and they know just how ridiculous the material is, therefore, they have a lot of fun being hammy and the older cast provides some very strong, memorable performances. The discrepancies lie with the younger main players. It feels as if they’ve been directed as if they are in a straight horror film. Their performances suck the life out of the enjoyment because they are being far too serious. Also, it didn’t help that Alyssa Weisberg, the member who was in charge of casting, casted two terrible child actors to portray the younger siblings. Their lines readings were incredibly flat and tonal that it became a distraction and took me out of the movie altogether. If the younger main characters looked like they were having fun and gave off that energetic charm the older cast had, the film would’ve definitely felt a lot more fresh and exciting. Also, as much as I’ve enjoyed Aja’s directorial work, his style didn’t fit here. What does fit though is eye for visual practical effects involving make-up. The make-up work on the victims of piranha attacks is incredible. The entire make-up department should be very proud of themselves for making theatres squirm and gasp all around the globe by presenting some of the most brutal wounds I’ve seen recently. Also, some of the deaths are extremely creative and the visual effects presented during these scenes are also stellar. However, the 3D effects as well as the CGI isn’t incorporated well and feels unnecessary and poorly done. Most, if not all, of the effects consist of characters pointing things at the screen, including drinks and throw-up. As tempting as that sounds in an “ooo, I have to see that” sort of way, the effects look too cartoony and unrealistic that the technology is solely used as a gimmick; a poor gimmick at that.
Piranha 3D is a tough movie to recommend; I’m really torn. In order to get the full boisterous crowd experience, one is going to have to shell out the $15 for a ticket. But what if the theatre isn’t packed? And the 3D really isn’t worth those extra dollars. The movie itself feels like something you don’t need to see in the theatre due to some of the inadequate elements such as the direction, some of the writing, and the overall feel. If you want to see that perfect “so bad, it’s good” movie you’ve been waiting for, this isn’t it. If you want a fun time with a couple of friends while you wince in pain after experiencing some brutal kills, the last third of the film is a great time but the film, not he whole, gets old fast. Piranha 3D could’ve been a great ride throughout, however, the first two thirds peter out and the film apologizes by having an extremely entertaining last third that will marvel you. Where people may relish in the film’s self-awareness, the film just didn’t do it for me.