Splatter films aren’t alone in having reached a point where filmmakers seem content to serve up the vague rudiments of a story, relying on viewers’ recognition of the tropes and disinterest with the details. The worst modern rom-coms and dance films similarly coast on low expectations, a love of formula, and a sense that viewers will be satisfied if they get the handful of specific payoffs they came for. But gorefests like Piranha 3DD (and Shark Night 3D, and Final Destination 5, and so forth) have reached a level of laziness most genres can only dream of, thanks to the age-old assumption that viewers will be content with anything that contains nudity and blood, and the more modern assumption that they’ll take any self-aware humor as a sign of clever satire. With 2010’s Piranha 3D, director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) at least attempted to reach giddy new heights of gawp-inducing graphic violence; it’s a low ambition, but an ambition nonetheless. For the much-cheaper-looking sequel, Piranha 3DD, director John Gulager (Feast and its two direct-to-DVD sequels) mostly seems to be trying to see how much he can degrade the old Jaws formula and still have it interpreted as parody rather than apathy.
This time around, the body of water threatened by killer fish is an Arizona water park newly taken over by slimy entrepreneur David Koechner, whose contributions to the place include “water-certified strippers” for lifeguards; an adult-pool area featuring nudity, alcohol, condom machines, and an underwater “cooch cam”; and a “Double D swims free!” policy for the ladies. Koechner’s adult stepdaughter Danielle Panabaker, as the requisite good girl, objects to him sleazing up the park her mother used to own, and fights him on all fronts, including his plan to fill the park with water pumped from a “bootleg well” that reaches into deep underground caverns which she knows are full of monster fish. The movie makes no attempt to sell viewers on any of this idiocy; like the various teenagers attempting to have sex and getting slaughtered, it’s all part of a checklist of genre-required points the film has to hit in order to get to the parts it does care about.
Mostly what it cares about is batshit cameos. The film launches with Gary Busey accidentally blowing up a waterlogged cow, releasing the piranha eggs within, with predictable results. It continues with Christopher Lloyd reprising his role from Piranha 3D as a goggle-eyed lunatic scientist who gets to snarl the line “Take that, laughing diarrhea baby!” Ving Rhames and Paul Scheer also return, with Rhames exploring first his newfound fear of water, then his newfound piranha-foiling strategies, cribbed from Planet Terror. And David Hasselhoff has a meaty cameo as himself, a bored celebrity called on to recall his Baywatch glory days by serving as a lifeguard at the park’s grand reopening. “Welcome to rock bottom,” he mutters to himself as he surveys his new kingdom.
But he at least seems to be having fun with his hostile persona and open self-mockery. Actual rock bottom belongs to the two actors whose attempted devirginization is interrupted when a killer fish somehow swims out of the woman’s vagina to latch onto the man’s penis. This is filmmaking in emulation of the shot-after-the-fact R-rated insert scenes from Snakes On A Plane: visually garish and amateurish, deliberately dumb, and content if it can provoke an astonished giggle or two. Piranha 3D was a bit of an event for fans of cheap thrills and gross kills. The sequel isn’t trying half as hard. It’s being presented as a landmark film because it’s the first 3-D movie to be simultaneously released in a handful of theaters and via VOD, but the release plan is the only creative idea caught in its otherwise empty net.