Gore gags run rampant in Piranha 3D, a cartoonish bloodbath where everything is an afterthought compared to the hilarious carnage. Director Alexandre Aja is no dummy. He's a competent horror filmmaker whose attraction to cinematic violence (Haute Tension, The Hills Have Eyes remake) makes up for his few arguable missteps (Mirrors, the final "twist" of Haute Tension). Here he tries his hand at horror comedy -- with a cast sporting enough comedic chops to pull it off. Given that, he seems more interested in blood-soaked lunacy than standard character- or performance-driven laughs. Thankfully for him, the bravura moments of splatter work exceptionally well when appreciated with a vulgar eye. Boobs, castration, face-ripping, slow-mo nude water ballets -- it's all here. If the 3D craze needed an exploitive entry, this is it.
It makes sense that horror-hound bro dude Eli Roth makes an appearance in the film. Much of the proceedings cater to the filmmaker's love for '80s-style raucous nudity -- and what better setting than spring break to do just that? In the sleepy town of Lake Victoria, an underwater threat has been unleashed, and unfortunately for all of the college kids partying on the lake -- they're the main course. Elisabeth Shue portrays the single-mom sheriff, Julie Forester, who along with her deputy, Fallon (Ving Rhames), polices the placid waters against keg-swiggin' kids. When a researcher (Party Down's Adam Scott) loses his team to the razor-toothed menace during a dive to check out a recent seismic shift, it becomes clear that the activity has unleashed a long-extinct breed of piranhas from underneath the lake. Now, with her three kids stranded on a boat with a low-rent Joe Francis-ish soft-porn peddler (Jerry O'Connell), the sheriff must clear the beaches and race to save her family in time.
One look at the cast says something -- in supporting roles, you have Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss, the former playing a kooky fish enthusiast and the latter sending up his most famous role in Jaws. Both choices are inspired (Lloyd gives an especially juicy performance), yet Dreyfuss is wasted. Also in the cast is Human Giant funnyman Paul Scheer, who you'd think would bring his usual cocky schtick to the proceedings, yet he's a wet napkin here, with hardly one earned laugh to his credit. The aforementioned Adam Scott is another wasted opportunity -- once again, a very funny actor is given nothing to work with. You see the trend that's happening here? Only Jerry O'Connell seems to be given enough room to play things over the top -- and even then, his best moment is a gore-soaked one, in a very welcome throwback to Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (and knowingly or not, a nod to Bruce Campbell in Waxwork II).
Yet, can one really knock a film like Piranha 3D? It obviously knows what it's doing. And the movie most definitely delivers in the knee-slapping gross-out department. Whether it's silicone breast-chewing or Roth's belly-laugh demise, there are slam-bang pieces of this puzzle that work fantastically well. It's just too bad that they couldn't have delivered a few more comedic flourishes when the Looney Tunes-looking rascals aren't onscreen. For now, the filmmakers can take heart in what they got away with. Between this and the same year's Jackass 3D, lowbrow has finally caught up to state-of-the-art technology -- now it's just a matter of whether you're one to rejoice or run far, far away.