I’ve given Jaws a lot of shit over the past several years. Everyone claims it as the movie that made them afraid to go into the water, yet the cameras stay mostly on-land, following Amity’s mayorial quabbles over keeping the beach open for season. Even after Brody finally hits the water, he spends at least a half hour of the film shooting barrels at nothing, debating just how many it will take before the shark finally surfaces. Nothing happens for a long time until, in the last fifteen minutes, the great white goes apeshit and destroys half the boat, mauls a diving cage and devours Quint whole. It’s an awesome finale to an otherwise slow-paced, seemingly dated film. After watching Piranha 3-D, I take it all back—Jaws is a masterpiece of the deep-sea horror genre. Making a scary film set in the oceans seems like a no-brainer; most people are at least a little terrified of sea monsters, only around ten percent of the ocean floor has been explored, and the more new fish we discover, the more horrific and monstrous they become. The question then is how Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3-D turned out so boring. Sure, it’s not trying to be Jaws and makes no claim to be—it’s a B-movie homage/lampoon. But like Snakes on a Plane and any number of other “tongue-in-cheek” genre send-ups, the joke wore thin in the trailer, leaving little more than a stupid, slow mess of poor acting, writing and filmmaking to slog through.
The story begins after a nameless fisherman drops his beer bottle in Arizona’s very own Lake Victoria, causing a rift in the seabed that reveals—surprise—a bloodthirsty pack of prehistoric piranha. Spring Break arrives just a few days later, bringing with it fleets of horny college students, jiggly-boobed porn “actresses”, and a cartoonish beach party that would feel shameful even on MTV. Julie Forster (Elisabeth Shue), a thick-skinned cop and mother of three, is none too happy with the Spring Breakers’ arrival and appoints Jake, her oldest son, to watch his brother and sister while she oversees the beachside hootenanny. However, after one of her partners is devoured in a piranha orgy of flesh-chewing and bad CGI, she makes it her quest to close the lake and save everyone from a tragic Spring Break Death-a-thon. Meanwhile, Jake, lured from his babysitting duties by Kelly Brooks’ bodacious three-dee boobies, sets off with Jerry O’Connell on the “Wild Wild Girls” boat to scout awesome territories where the girls can parasail topless, skim water topless, and swim under a boat topless. In case you’re wondering, yes, they go out on the very same piranha-infested lake Jake’s mother is trying to evacuate. Some other crap happens, Jake’s brother and sister get marooned on an inner-lake island, and you really don’t care what else is going on. Here’s what you need to know about Piranha 3-D: gory gore and three dee titties. If that’s what you’re looking for it delivers in droves.
Unfortunately it doesn’t do much else. Christopher Lloyd steals the show as a crazed marine biologist who happens to have a fossil of the very piranha type the police are fighting in Lake Victoria sitting on his living room table. If you close your eyes and try really hard you can pretend you’re watching Back to the Future in all of his one and a half scenes. Even Richard Dreyfuss—yes, Matthew fucking Hooper of Jaws fame—can’t prop this film up over anything beyond B-movie schlock. My favorite moment—and it’s the only time I laughed in the whole movie—was watching Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) shoot fish with a shotgun. Sure, he uses a boat engine right after, but we saw that in the trailer and it’s slightly feasible; shooting fish with a gun—that’s just insane! Though it set out to lampoon the genre, Piranha 3-D is ultimately just another piece of B-movie trash—trash that will garner high praise more for its director than anything contained within. Aja gave us a quality remake of The Hills Have Eyes and a well-crafted thriller in High Tension, but with Piranha 3-D it seems he lost his edge. It’s an unfunny, boring, by-the-numbers horror flick that would have trouble lining the bottom of Wal-Mart’s five dollar DVD bin.