Few titles are more elegantly self-explanatory than “Piranha 3DD”: It’s got killer fish, stereoscopy and boobs aplenty. Less tongue-in-cheek than its 2010 predecessor and more tongue-hanging-out-drooling, this latest iteration of the predatory piscine franchise, helmed by “Project Greenlight” protege John Gulager, ups the self-parody so much that it’s practically a Wayans Brothers spoof, albeit with fewer jokes. David Hasselhoff features in the funniest ones, which might add a modest B.O. bump to what’s destined to be cult ancillary item after a quick theatrical chomp.
Pic opened wide in Blighty three weeks ahead of its North American release on the back of a lively, jocular marketing campaign that should ensure some pants in seats, if only from those who couldn’t get in to see 3D rival and holdover hit “The Avengers.”
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Choosing not to tinker with a sure thing, the pre-title sequence kicks off with a fisherman (Gary Busey, not as funny a choice as “Jaws” alumnus Richard Dreyfuss was in “Piranha”) getting munched by the eponymous CGI-created carnivores. Thereafter, the pic cleaves to the cleavage-intensive, frat-boyish sensibility of “Piranha 3D,” setting the action mostly around a water park whose owner, Chet (David Koechner), has repurposed with aquatic strippers and an adults-only nudist pool. The park is located in the Arizona town of Merkin (ho, ho), not far from the beleaguered Lake Victoria, where the previous pic unfolded two years ago. (Locations used are actually in Wilmington, N.C.)
Chet’s marine-biologist stepdaughter, Maddy (Danielle Panabaker), is unhappy with how Chet has made over the park, which was built by her late mother, but she’s powerless to stop the reopening from going ahead. (She’s also relatively small-breasted and, therefore, by the internal logic of the series, likely to live.) Before long, two employees, Ashley (Meagan Tandy) and Travis (Paul James Jordan) become fish food after accidentally sliding into the nearby lake during some kinky sex in a van.
When Maddy and her friend Shelby (Katrina Bowden, “American Reunion”) nearly get nibbled to death, Maddy, clearly not a topnotch biologist, seeks out Lake Victoria scientist Mr Goodman (returning thesp Christopher Lloyd) for advice. He warns Maddy, her nerdy but nice friend Barry (Matt Bush), and her untrustworthy ex-b.f., Kyle (Chris Zylka), that these prehistoric piranha (or “piranhas,” as the script is vague about the form the plural should take) have learned to penetrate steel barriers, so ordinary pool grates won’t stop them.
Before the inevitable and quite literal bloodbath ensues, there’s a rather nasty scene that reps a variation on the old vagina-dentata anxiety so beloved of schlock horror films, here involving Shelby and a most unlucky suitor, Josh (Jean-Luc Bilodeau). Special makeup effects creator Gary J. Tunnicliffe goes to town with the severed limbs at the climax, crafting gore so gratuitous and rubbery, it’s not remotely scary.
Hasselhoff plays a version of himself here, a celebrity hired to help open the park. Smiling indulgently as chaos reigns around him, he looks like a walnut-skinned Shiva the Destroyer, or alternatively, when he makes triumphant use of a trident, a late-middle-aged Poseidon in red trunks. It’s a very wink-wink perf, slightly at odds tonally with those of the other actors, who are trying to play it relatively straight; even Ving Rhames tries to look fierce while shooting piranha with a prosthetic leg-cum-machine gun.
Gulager, a bit more in tune with the monster-movie aesthetic than “Piranha’s” Alexandre Aja, seems to have more affection for mangled bodies than for living ones. Despite the title’s big-bosom promise, the treatment of living female flesh is largely perfunctory, as though fulfilling a contractual obligation embedded in the title. Nevertheless, even with the advantage of contempo special effects, this latest mad-fish movie lacks the exploitation-pic bite of the Joe Dante-helmed, John Sayles-penned, Roger Corman-produced 1978 original.