If you're gonna go for it, go for it. That was the philosophy Alexandre Aja pursued for the bleakly funny "Piranha 3D," an orgy of death and dismemberment that indulged in the hedonism of spring break before letting loose swarms of genetically superior fish that were decidedly playing for keeps. As much as Aja's characters had tongue firmly planted in cheek (see: Jerry O'Connell as Joe Francis), his committment to tearing these characters apart like cheap confetti never wavered, orchestrating a straight-faced massacre that might as well have been "Saving Private Ryan" for the "Jersey Shore" generation. Aja, like the piranhas, saw the youth of today and tasted blood in the water, not so much with a smile as much as a predatory grin.
How unfortunate that the Weinsteins have attempted to pass this franchise from an actual horror filmmaker to someone who couldn't direct his way out of a paper bag. John Gulager (the "Feast" trilogy) takes the reins this time, and he seems to have misinterpreted this material as comedy. Having long proven he can't deliver a scare as much as he can spotlight a gooey special effect, he's now taken the opportunity, in "Piranha 3DD," to prove that he's some sort of yukster in the vein of Joe Dante, who originated these films with 1978's "Piranha." We would have been better off with a distaff Wayans sibling.
"Piranha 3DD" takes off at the close of the first film (while not regarding the final-minute punchline), with a pack of gilled flesh-eaters still out there in lakes a year after the decimation of the first film's Lake Victoria. This time, they've found a home right outside of a gaudy water park called "The Big Wet," run by an ornery, doofusy David Koechner-type (David Koechner) that has been remodled to include stripper lifeguards and an "adult section" with nude models cavorting in front of a, ahem, "cooch cam." The first film trafficked in the cheap thrill of nudity, though it was very clearly integrated into the film. This new picture features generously endowed extras posing for the camera edited in a way to suggest they were never actually on the set, miles away from the story. Suffice to say, there's also no one around to fulfill the surprisingly warm cheesecake factor of Kelly Brook. If you must know, that made this critic particularly sad.
Koechner's step-daughter (Danielle Panabaker) has just returned home and is appalled by this sexless "Caligula" that's erupted, despite her owning a portion of the park via inheritance. She's got enough on her plate as is, having to deal not only with a super handsome former flame (Chris Zylka) and a fairly asexual childhood friend (Matt Bush), the latter still carrying a torch for her. As a future oceanographer, however, she's able to deduct that, huh, there are things in the water that might come eat the peoples! Koechner, desperate to save some cash, proudly opts for using the local piranha-infested lake to supply the park with water, giving them a clear path and, would you look at that, this movie is barely feature-length.
Much of the excess screentime of what is essentially a 30-minute movie is padded by surprising cameos. Richard Dreyfuss' appearance in the opening of "Piranha 3D" was a clever in-joke, but there's no real rhyme or reason to Gary Busey showing up in a poorly shot prologue. Christopher Lloyd returns from the last film, though not only do the characters go far out of their way for Lloyd to tell them the obvious, but he's pretty much servicing the story in exactly the same way this time around with no clever twist. And Paul Scheer and Ving Rhames return in tandem, despite their characters being in different professions and never interacting in the original film, and pretty much dying. Again, their scenes look like they were shot miles away from the rest of the cast, and Rhames' one sub-grindhouse gimmick -- he has no legs, but can attach a machine gun to his stump -- feels like gimmick overload.
And of course, because Gulager is quasi-Hollywood royalty, he is caught genuflecting in the glare of David Hasselhoff's stardom. Hasselhoff, who plays a version of himself, is allowed to ham it up as a faded star with delusions of grandeur, arriving at the park as a conquering hero in his familiar red bathing shorts. There's a reason that Hasselhoff, a huckster of limited talent and undeniable sleaze, has been seen in so few films in the last decade despite starring in, as he claims, the biggest television show of all time. When Hasselhoff is on screen, the film freezes in place to allow for him to indulge in winking shtick that supposedly pokes fun at his persona without ever drawing blood from an easy target. Is it a surprise he's not a natural comedian?
The picture builds to another massacre much like the original, but it's a soggy, poorly paced conclusion that feels like a precursor to an onslaught that never comes. If the first film's slaughter was a waterfall, this one is a broken backyard hose, flailing desperately before being put out of its misery. The film closes at a miserably cheap length in the vicinity of 70 minutes, which is the most grotesque realization of this film -- you'll be paying premium 3D prices for about half a film, and not a particularly interesting one. Fortunately, the runtime is extended with interminable end credit "bloopers" and alternate joke sequences where Gulager seems to think Hasselhoff ad-libs are the height of comedy. If there's anything worse than a bad movie, it's one that's all too amused by itself. [F]