Despite James Cameron’s impassioned attempts to legitimize a 1950s gimmick employed by cinema hucksters to serve cheap thrills to audiences willing shell out a couple of extra bucks, 3D has yet to prove its usefulness beyond a fleeting novelty.
It is a dire time for movies. Television, once the mass media marked by pandering to the basest of human intellect, has somehow managed to turn the tables on film, the traditionally more artistic, subversive and prestigious medium. It’s not hard to see why people are tuning in to “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” “The Sopranos,” and “Breaking Bad” when the cinematic alternatives are the remake “Dinner for Schmucks,” the video game sequel “Resident Evil: Afterlife” and the fourth “Shrek” movie.
How is Hollywood coping with falling tickets sales and increasingly stiff competition from a television renaissance and uninhibited internet creativity? By paying gifted writers top dollar for original screenplays and cultivating promising young directors with fresh ideas and interesting things to say? Sadly, no. Hollywood’s brilliant retort is to dust off a more than half-century old gimmick, pretend it’s new and charge more money for it. There’s no way that won’t work, right?
Luckily, director Alexandre Aja (“High Tension,” “The Hills Have Eyes”), a French outsider with some perspective, has managed to place the world back in order — for 88 minutes at least.
“Piranha 3D” is a remake of the Joe Dante B-movie classic. It is absurd, offensive, exploitative, crude and morally inconsistent. It is also very funny. It is the Costello to “Jaws’” Abbott — the Jerry Lewis to “The Exorcist’s” Dean Martin. Movies like “Piranha 3D” deliver the punchlines. They’re almost meant to be taken as gimmicks themselves. It is for movies like this that 3D was created. Aja understands this, whereas James Cameron does not, and uses the novel technology better than any movie has in years, including “Avatar.”
There is no attempt to add subtle depth or delicate nuance. There are, however, plentiful frames brimming with naked breasts, comical gore and hilarious set pieces of mass killings, all rendered in beautiful 3D.
As for the narrative structure, performances and writing, this B-movie is at the top of its class. Filled with great cameos like Richard Dreyfuss reprising his Matt Hooper role from “Jaws” in the opening moments, Eli Roth as a perverse wet T-shirt contest host and Christopher Lloyd as a crazed scientist (big surprise); and starring 1980s Hollywood sweetheart, Elisabeth Shue, who plays a no-nonsense cop and Jerry O’Connell in a role for the ages as an ego-maniacal Joe Francis-style pornographer whose every utterance is either grotesquely perverse or side-splittingly funny, ”Piranha 3D” hits all the right notes in all the right places.
“Piranha 3D” doesn’t offer much in the way of originality or artistic integrity, but it’s certainly making the most of Hollywood’s irrational reliance on an outdated gimmick.