First, let me pose a question to you: what would you expect, or more importantly want, if you paid to see a film in the theater called “Piranha 3D”?
The worst case scenario for a reaction to a movie like this would be, in my opinion, indifference. There’s nothing more depressing for me to sit through than something mechanical and boring and perfunctory. When a film has no pulse at all, I find it more unpleasant to sit through than an enthusiastically terrible film. If someone really goes for it, but they fail completely, it’s still worth seeing if only for that misguided passion. It’s the films where it feels like all involved are just picking up a check and sleep-walking through the work that chip away at me each year.
Thankfully, Alexandre Aja is a lunatic.
He seems to have rebounded completely now from the rancid, joyless “Mirrors” with this fishsploitation joyride that does its best to entertain from the first shot to the last. It is shameless, in every way that matters, amazingly gory, packed with gratuitous nudity, and cheerfully unconcerned with padding at a brisk 82 minutes. The film starts with a silly celebrity cameo and a bunch of wink-wink in-jokes that will entertain fans who know the origins of the original ’70s “Piranha,” as well as a fistful of CGI and blood. That sets the tone that the rest of the film adheres to, and it seems like Aja’s never been more comfortable than he is playing loose and ridiculous here.
I wouldn’t call this a remake or a sequel to the Joe Dante “Piranha,” but more like a really affectionate take on the same basic idea, filtered through a more contemporary sensibility. The film takes place on Lake Victoria, Arizona, an obvious stand-in for the popular destination of Lake Havasu. It’s spring break, and horny drunken college kids descend on the small town with decadence in mind. The town’s sheriff, Julie Forester (Elizabeth Shue), discovers a dead body that’s been chewed to pieces, and her first instinct is to close the lake. What she doesn’t realize is that an earthquake has opened a rift in the bottom of the lake, revealing another lake below it that’s been shut off since prehistoric times, allowing crazy ravenous dinosaur piranha to run free and feed. Add in a sleazy amateur porn crew under the enthusiastic guidance of Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) and a team of “seismologist divers” studying the effects of the quake led by Novak (Adam Scott), and you’ve pretty much got all the players in the mayhem that unfolds.
The film feels like it’s been heavily edited, with pretty much all but the most basic story points left on the floor. No matter. The film offers up money shots, one after another, in myriad ways. O’Connell’s sleazy porn producer (who I’m sure isn’t remotely based on Joe Francis or Girls Gone Wild) brings two girls with him for a shoot on the lake, and the casting of Kelly Brook and Riley Steele borders on genius. Steele is a real porn actress and has no problem with nudity or underwater lesbian ballet, and Brook is an English lingerie model who is an architectural marvel. Honestly, forget about “Avatar.” Kelly Brook butt-ass nekkid is the reason that 3D was created, and Aja takes full advantage of the potential. When the film’s bloodletting finally kicks in, it’s unrelenting, and there’s one long sequence that may become infamous as one of the most spectacularly violent R-rated set pieces ever. It just keeps going and going, killing more and more people in crazier and crazier ways, and by the end, I was almost rattled by the sheer quantity of the violence. It’s all played for “HOLY CRAP!” laughs, but it is brutally executed by KNB, and you can almost hear Greg Nicotero standing just off-camera and howling at everything he’s getting away with.
The cast knows exactly what they’re doing, and Elizabeth Shue and Adam Scott both walk away winners. Scott in particular seems to be having indecent fun striking a few action hero poses and reacting with droll alarms to the monster fish. Christopher Lloyd shows up for what is really just an extended cameo, but every line out of his mouth gets a laugh just because of the general lack of Lloyd in our lives lately. Ving Rhames doesn’t have a lot to do, but he goes down swinging. O’Connell may never be able to convincingly shake off the scumbag after the enthusiastic way he and his cameraman (Paul Scheer of “Human Giant” fame) ply their trade and earn their punishment. Even the young cast, led by Steven R. McQueen and Jessica Szohr, acquit themselves as well as possible considering how generally thin the material is.
If you pay close attention, you’ll notice there are fairly well-known faces who flash by so fast that they had to have suffered from post-production problems, and the film’s 3D conversion is largely successful although still marred by occasional artifacts that prove this wasn’t shot in 3D. It might as well have been, since so much of the film seems to have been specifically designed for the process, and the film seems well aware that when you’re making exploitation, pretending to be classy about it is pointless. I took some guff for not like “The Expendables,” but that’s a film that wants it both ways. It isn’t big and dumb enough as a big dumb action movie, and as a character piece about guys questioning their way of life, it’s too undercooked. That middle ground just doesn’t work for me, and the result was frustration. With “Snakes On A Plane,” another film I’ve heard people compare this to, I don’t think the film was ever unhinged enough to live up to that title. “Piranha 3D” doesn’t have a thing on its agenda other than chaos, and it keeps throwing the silly at you until the last shock cut to black, an attitude that is to be admired in an age with marketing lies more often than not.
“Piranha 3D” opens everywhere today.
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