The Sleepless Movie Review
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Written by Pete Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg and directed by Alexandre Aja
89 Minutes
Rated R for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use.

I'm an odd bird to be reviewing this film, since my review is going to diverge fairly wildly from the pack. Most critics are actually being very kind to Aja's Piranha 3D, and maybe they're just trying to sound hip. I'm not sure. I think because the film wasn't screened for critics, they were just happy it didn't completely suck balls.

Another problem is that I come into the film with a measure of prejudice. I'm one of the few people educated in film whose hackles still rise when they hear the words "French" and "film" in the same sentence. Alexandre Aja is a French filmmaker who, at least in my estimation, has yet to actually make anything anyone would call "good" or even just "successful." My favorite of his is Mirrors, and that movie sucks, but sucks in earnest and pleasure can be derived from its mediocrity. High Tension is - at least in my opinion - one of the most grossly overrated turds to plop into my DVD player in recent memory, an exercise in "me too" and pointless brutality closed with one of the absolute worst third act twists I've ever seen.

But my expectations were appropriately low for Piranha 3D. I was told there would be gratuitous full frontal nudity, I was pleased. I heard someone gets his dick bit off by shitty CG fish, I was psyched. Spring break full of brainless, drunken co-eds, wet t-shirt contests, and all the other kinds of bullshit I hate? And you say these people will all be devoured by shitty CG fish? Cash or check?

The normally on-the-ball A.V. Club review laments that there's too much plot, but you sort of expect to have to sit through some shitty plot to get to the carnage. You simply can't fill a ninety minute movie with just people getting eaten by fish at spring break. My problem isn't the plot, or the overqualified cast. Most of this shit is as funny as it ought to be, and all Christopher Lloyd has to do is look bug-eyed and be ominous for me to be entertained. The CG and the 3D are both shitty but again, that's not really an issue. Had this been done with quality CG it wouldn't be nearly as amusing, the effects are supposed to suck.

Except that the practical effects work by Nicotero and Berger - who magically became an awesome effects house after Kurtzman left - is too good for this movie and too grisly for this tone, and it's exacerbated badly by Aja's perverse direction. He makes a fatal miscalculation in the style and detail of the blood and gore: it's too realistic. Horror movies are fun when this stuff looks like crap, not when it actually really does look like someone's been chewed in half by prehistoric fish. The pain, suffering, and wounds just look too realistic.

It gets worse. God willing I love my sex and my violence, and I even love 'em in the same film, but you begin to encroach on a kind of sick misogyny when you get them in the same scene. One girl gets sliced in half by a flying cable. Her bikini falls open, gives us all a good look at her boobs, and then part of her torso slides off...into the water, where we again get another close-up look at her boob (just one, since the other half is still on the boat.) This is the kind of thing that threatened to sink the otherwise hilariously enjoyable remake of Friday the 13th. It also retroactively damages the film; gratuitous nudity that existed earlier in the film starts to feel less tongue-in-cheek and more authentically gratuitous and excessive when you start to wonder just what the director thinks of women in general.

Nudity and violence made a lot of old exploitation movies - especially slashers from the 80's - so much fun, because shit would be expected and shoehorned in. There was a measure of creativity in the way people were dispatched. And it all looked comically cheap. Nudity existed less because the filmmakers were sleazy and more because it was frankly just...part of the formula. None of what I've seen of Aja's work suggests to me the kind of humor or blatant stupidity that went into these old films.

There's a lot of funny shit in Piranha 3D, and indeed, Jerry O'Connell does get his dick bitten off in spectacular fashion. But too often the film seems to mistake sadism for schadenfreude, and drains the fun out of the experience in the process.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.