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Piranha 3D (2010) ***

August 24, 2010

written by: Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg,Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur
produced by: Alexandre Aja, Mark Canton, Marc Toberoff & Grégory Levasseur
directed by: Alexandre Aja
rated R (for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use)
98 min.
U.S. release date: August 20, 2010
“Piranha 3D” is that rare film that actually exceeds a viewer’s expectations in the most outrageous and gratuitous way possible. Just for that, the movie is a success, considered how desensitized we have become to horror films. This is most assuredly an “exploitation” film for a new era, referring to those raunchy grindhouse films of the 70’s, combined with the hard-bodied Spring Break flicks of the 80’s. As in those films, there’s no moral barometer here, as witnessed by the insane amount of decadent bloodshed and rampant nakedness. Gone is the “less is more” approach that made “Jaws”, the mother of all “terror in the water” films, the inspiration for the original Roger Corman-produced “Piranha”. That tactful approach has been replaced with a voracious assault (or insult) to the senses.
Nothing fathomable can stop the massive force of college kids from consuming beautiful Lake Victoria during Spring Break.  The agenda is nothing original, just the requisite getting wasted, naked, and wet.  Left to keep the students in line is Sheriff Julie Forester  (Elisabeth Shue), a single mom who also has to make sure her teen son, Jake (Steven R. McQueen), watches over her two youngest kids, as she tries to ensure a modicum of civility on both land and water. She and her deputy (Ving Rhames) are about to encounter another massive consuming force after an underwater earthquake unleashes a wave of prehistoric piranha to feast on the unknowing party animals.
Working with a group of underwater seismologists (Adam Scott and Dina Meyer), Sheriff Forrester and her crew now face the daunting task of clearing the drunkards out of the water, in an effort to prevent an insurmountable bloodbath. Do you think they succeed? Meanwhile, hormone-enslaved Jake neglects his babysitting duties and is lured to the water by soft-core king  Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell), and his bevy of babes (led by Kelly Brook and Riley Steele), along with Kelly (Jessica Szohr), the “nice girl” he can’t seem to land. That’s the expected set-up and slim subplot which is fodder for the inevitable bloodbath awaiting the clueless booze hounds once these long-extinct nasties catch their well-oiled scent.
This is a movie with no pretense, dispensing an indulgent amount of graphic gross-outs and nudity is the goal. Director Alexandre Aja will convince viewers that this is exactly what would happen if such ravenous, flesh-eating fish meet carefree and perverse teens. I’m not kidding. The advance in CGI and acceptance of massive amounts of blood, make the original “Piranha” films look like Discovery Channel movies of the week. Here we are exposed to a varied assortment of watery dooms, such as sudden decapitations, grisly eviscerations, and an unlimited amount of floating appendages (literally every kind of appendage and organ imaginable), not to mention silicon implants. Both Aja and the piranha make sure to devour any possible edible body part.
All of this comes to you  in inescapable 3D at an unrelenting pace.  In a year that has seen an almost weekly release of 3D conversion films, this is the best use yet. Many films have 3D slapped on in post-haste production, delivering a visual disaster on-screen just to capitalize on the craze. Unlike those films, Aja and company had planned their 3D conversion in advance after shooting 2D in the dyed-red waters of Lake Havasu, Arizona. As cumbersome as it is to shoot on the water, this makes sense. While I am no supporter of tacked-on 3D, if there was any film genre that warrants 3D done right, this is it. The idea of killer fish (and vomit) coming at you in this format is a perfect fit. I appreciate the fact that Aja didn’t bother to redundantly spell out “3D” in the opening title sequence, since the underwater images are already reaching the viewer in the 3rd dimension.  
Thankfully, Aja does more than just provide us with an unsettling amount of titillating flesh and dismembered mayhem to smack our glasses. He also makes the most of the 3D by leaving us in the water, often floating at eye-level, providing the right amount of chair-clenching tension. Granted there are scenes where the director edges toward masturbatory, like the unnecessarily drawn-out nude underwater bimbo ballet that pushes the ratings. Yet  it’s not like that scene is out of context here, in a movie where there are no apparent moral boundaries. It’s a reminder that this is a brazen exploitation film that has fun serving just what a prepared viewer expects.
Clearly, Aja (who delivered the disturbing 2006 remake “The Hills Have Eyes”) and writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger (behind last year’s “Sorority Row” the remake of “The House of Sorority Row”) know a thing or two about updating a B-movie to new levels of shock. This is not only for the audience that has grown up with gruesome as the norm (“Saw” or “Hostel”) but also for those viewers who used to sneak into theaters for these movies or repeatedly rented them on VHS back in the day (unbeknownst to their parental units, of course). Not that I would know anything about that. Ahem.
PIRANHA 3D  Elizabeth Shue
One could easily wonder where the attraction lies for actors in a film that sinks characterization and capsizes comprehensible dialogue. Well, for one, it’s a paycheck that provides some filmography variety. Also, shooting schlocky horror camp in 100 degree weather might be too hard to pass up. The best decision these actors make is to play their roles straight. Shue is a standout (as always), exuding a commanding confidence, it’s the most action-demanding role we’ve seen her in since “Adventures in Babysitting”. Give this woman her own action/adventure film now! The rest of the supporting cast, Eli Roth included, know they are eventual fish food but until then they display a healthy amount of humor and audacious antics.
Two welcome and encouraging returns to horror humor is Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd, both delivering wonderful riffs on their memorable past roles. In a knowing nod, Dreyfuss’ character, seen  fishing in a boat, wears a wool cap and whistles a familiar tune from “Jaws”…and his character is named Matt. Shue turns to Lloyd’s reclusive Dr. Goodman for fish advice and we’re given an amalgam of Reverend Jim and Doc Brown. It’s pure joy seeing Lloyd deliver lines like, “The piranha hunt in packs. The first bite draws blood, blood draws the pack”, in all his over-emphasized, bug-eyed glory. It’s also fun to see these veteran actors round out a cast that’s well-balanced in both its age and gender.
“Piranha 3D” is obviously not for everyone (tell that to the parents who brought their underage children at the theater I was at) and I would recommend it for those who can handle tasteless, sun-soaked horror. It’s ironic that the Weinstein Brothers didn’t screen this one for critics, considering how it sets itself up for the inevitable sequel. They probably underestimated the reception to Aja’s confident direction and dropped this in August thinking it would sink.
There will be plenty who will berate this movie and even be offended that it exists. To them I say,  there is an audience for everything. Scoffers will be surprised how this movie will float to the surface with fan support. I was laughing and squirming, often grossed-out as I sat there knowing full well the film’s intent. In typical horror movie interaction, I even found myself shouting at the characters on-screen. Such visceral reaction is a sign that this surprise end-of-summer movie succeeds.
7 Comments leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    August 24, 2010 11:12 am

    eh…think I’ll pass on this one. Not my type of movie at all. And WHY are there so many clueless parents taking kids to see movies like that? Sigh….. I’ve seen so many examples lately of kids (I’m talking under 12 here) seeing stuff that they SHOULD not be seeing at the movies! 🙁

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      August 24, 2010 11:57 am

      I hear ya. It’s frightening, irresponsible, and incomprehensible to see minors children with their parents, at movies like these. Is this considered shock parenting or are they just looking forward to therapy bills in the future? Yikes! I can understand teens being there cuz, well, an R-rating didn’t stop me when I was a teen but….kids under twelve (?!?!) saddens me immensely.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      August 24, 2010 3:12 pm

      Speaking of parents, check out what Carly has to say in the comments of this review

      • windi permalink
        August 30, 2010 9:37 pm

        wow, that was weird to read. I can only assume that she hadn’t heard of the movie before she went to see it, and only took her kids because she found out it was filmed in their town. Talk about a shock to her! I noticed she said there were parents in there with little kids who never left. *the mind boggles* I give her props for leaving, but not much for not bothering to at least see what the movie is about before taking her kids!

        Which is why I always read reviews before I watch movies! I’m not about to let one review talk me out of seeing a movie I really want to see, but it pays to read more than one review for sure…which is how I knew not to even go NEAR The Last Airbender, which I had anxiously been waiting to see.

        this one, I had no clue about, and no desire to learn more because I don’t watch horror movies of any kind, and especially not these kind–blood and guts and gore horror movies.

  2. Tairy Greene permalink
    August 25, 2010 8:34 am

    Very well done review of a pretty controversial movie. Bonus: Jerry O’Connell in the role of a lifetime!

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      August 25, 2010 8:53 am

      Thanks. O’Connell has just the right amount of sleaze….actually, he and Eli Roth (as the Wet T-shirt contest host) could have easily swapped roles but O’Connell has more charisma.


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