Alright! As a last farewell to the 2010 summer movie season before we head into fall with all the “prestige” movies vying for Oscar gold, we get one last of pure trash that is very entertaining. Lord knows we need movies like these every once in awhile to unwind and revel in the sheer ridiculousness of its scenario, and they certainly help us to appreciate the great ones even more. The filmmakers behind “Piranha 3D” are very aware of the fact that they are making a completely cheesy movie with boatloads of blood, gore, and nudity on display with an additional dimension for your viewing pleasure. It’s a throwback to those 80’s movies that took themselves more seriously than they had any right to, but this one accepts itself for the bloody joke that it is. You can either take it for what it is or despise it for the same reason. I’m fine with it as it is.
“Piranha 3D” was directed by Alexandre Aja who is best known for his heavily censored horror import “High Tension” as well as his remake of “The Hills Have Eyes,” one of the few of its kind that was actually worth watching. Alexandre’s movies in general have a very raw edge to them to where you never feel safe anymore then the characters do, but with this particular remake, he lets loose and allows himself and the audience to have more fun than we could ever expect. Alexandre makes this very clear when he opens the movie on a drunken Richard Dreyfuss who is sitting in his small boat fishing on a lake while singing “Show Me The Way To Go Home.” Yup folks, he’s sending up his role of Matt Hooper from “Jaws,” and we see him wearing the same clothes and even drinking the same beer as his character did in that classic. Of course, his Hooper-like character meets a Quint-like end when those sharp-toothed fishes tear him apart in record time. It’s a first sign that this may not be the right kind of movie for vegetarians. Truth be told, Quint had it a lot easier in retrospect.
The main action takes place in Lake Victoria, Arizona where a big spring break bash is underway and wreaking havoc on the local authorities. We get introduced to the stock characters of this kind of gory tale very quickly, and they include Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) who keeps the rowdy locals in check with her right hand man, Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames). Julie’s son Jake (Steve R. McQueen) is made to watch after his little brother and sister while she works. But he can’t resist the offer of porno filmmaker Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) who offers him more money than babysitting could ever pay him so that he can show Derrick the best spots to film around the lake. As a bonus, Jake gets to bring along the girl he’s still crushing on after all this time, Kelly (Jessica Szohr).
Whereas those nasty fishes from the Joe Dante/Roger Corman original were part of some military experiment to be used as a weapon, these ones come from a prehistoric age and have been trapped underground for about two million years. Kind of makes you wonder how these things could have survived the way they did. Where was their source of food? When they were freed after an earthquake makes a crack in their rocky cage, how come they were able to handle sunlight so well? Wouldn’t that blind them or shock them since they are not used to it? Should I even be asking these questions in a movie like this one? Of course not! Logic is on vacation here and it’s just as well. Forget about trying to communicate with a dormant species, DINNER IS ABOUT TO BE SERVED!!!
The piranhas were all rendered in CGI, and while I might complain if this were any other movie, knowing how fake these fishes are only adds to the all too apparent cheese factor on display. They soon turn this little Arizona lake into one amazingly large bloodbath without ever taking the time to slow down and chew their food (it would be so polite if they did). Once they get through all the appetizers, the main course is right there having drunken fun on the water. Spring break is as good as any time for young adults throwing caution and responsibility to the wind, so it’s unsurprising that they wouldn’t pay attention to their surroundings until it’s too late.
I remember reading a movie review some time ago on “Jaws 2” which talked about how it was worth seeing for those who had a phobia of teenagers and would like to see them turned to fish food. With “Piranha 3D,” I think it’s a must for all those who are beyond irritated (let alone nauseated) of all these spring break specials you see ever year on MTV. All those screaming kids who bankrolled their vacation on their parents’ dime are just asking to be torn limb from limb like they are some special dinner at Benihana. Remember the opening sequence of “Saving Private Ryan” with the D-Day invasion? Imagine that as a dark comedy, and you have the penultimate scene of “Piranha 3D.” The only difference is that these boys and girls are the kind you wanted to slap around in high school because they are so spoiled.
But seriously, one of the best things about “Piranha 3D” is the cast of actors, some of which you would not expect to see in a movie like this. So many inspired choices were made here aside from Richard Dreyfuss’ brief cameo. Among them are Ving Rhames who gets medieval on those damn piranhas with an outboard motor (one of the coolest moments featured in the trailer for it). You also have Christopher Lloyd here as a marine biologist who acts every bit as crazed and excited as Doc Brown was in the “Back To The Future” trilogy. Jerry O’Connell looks to be having far too much fun with his over the top performance as Derrick Jones, the head of a “Girls Gone Wild” film company. It is clear what part of the body he thinks with the most, and it makes for one of the more visually interesting meals for those fishes, especially with it being in 3D. Oh yeah, Eli Roth is on board too as the host of the wet t-shirt contest (“Inglourious Basterds” this ain’t).
But the one person I was thrilled to see in this (and was alone worth the price of admission) was Elisabeth Shue. One of the most beautiful actresses from all those movies we grew up with like “The Karate Kid,” “Adventures In Babysitting,” and (dare I say) “Cocktail.” But ever since her astonishing performance in “Leaving Las Vegas,” she has never quite gotten a role as good as that one. The last thing I remember seeing her in was “Hamlet 2” where she played herself, having given up on acting and having become a nurse.
Now Elisabeth’s role as Sheriff Julie Forester is not going to win her any Oscars (as if anyone else should be so blessed), but seeing her in a lead role again is sweet. While at times poking at her image as the girl next door, she confidently portrays her sheriff character as one that can never be pushed around and who lays down the law where she sees fit. Elisabeth is still as beautiful as can be, and it doesn’t look like she has aged all that much. Here’s hoping she gets more lead roles in different kinds of movies again in the future!
Now as you can tell from the title, this movie is in 3D. I didn’t realize it until after I saw it, but it was actually shot in 2D and then later retrofitted into 3D. Had I known this before I went into the theater, I would not have bothered seeing it because we all know about the damage of converting 2D to 3D as proven by “The Last Airbender” among other dreadful movies. This is not to mention the practice of jacking up the price so that the studios can make a bigger profit. However, the conversion here is shockingly well done and doesn’t call attention to itself with phony tricks and stuff. There’s a great nude water ballet sequence that’s midway through the movie where the 3D effects are put to great use. The rest of it is just there to immerse you more into the cheesy entertainment which we could already get a whiff of once we went into the theater.
So there you have it, “Piranha 3D” is bloody fun and is not trying to get your consideration for the Oscars (although the actors seriously disagree on that). There is of course an obligatory setup for a sequel, so we will probably end up finding out if size does matter for these nasty bitters. The movie’s last scene indicates that we haven’t seen anything yet, and this is just the beginning (of another darn franchise).
*** out of ****