Blog Lagoon’s 31 Days of Halloween, Day 3: Piranha 3D (2010) Feature Review

PIRANHA 3D (2010) Reviewed

How can a movie with so much over-the-top violence, gore and nudity still feel like a throwback to more a more innocent era in horror history?  It harkens back to the golden age of splatter: the 80s…the Tom Savini salad days of graphic gut munching and tongue-in-cheek disembowelments. Piranha 3D knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything more. Its hierarchy of ambitions places elaborate gory set pieces at the top of the list, followed by casting (Seriously, I can’t think of a more randomly assembled group of recognizable actors), with story bringing up the rear, barely registering as a priority at all. Well, that’s fine by me, because it makes recapping the plot a breeze:

An underwater earthquake releases a CGI army of  prehistoric piranha, who wreak havoc on spring breakers who’ve made the unlucky decision to spend their vacation at this particular Arizona lake. That’s pretty much it. Elizabeth Shue is the local sheriff trying to reign in the chaos with her deputy, played by an underused but always welcome Ving Rhames. You don’t really need to know anything else, and come to think of it– even that much seems incidental.

When you consider that P3D is a remake (sort of) of a movie that was a parody of Jaws (kind of), you understand why it plays out like a 14 year-old boy’s first crack at a screenplay. Calculated suspense, dramatic development, character growth…these things just aren’t on this movie’s menu, nor should they be. If ever a director had an excuse to go hog wild with buckets of blood and latex entrails, Alexandre Aja has found it. He could be carving out a nice little niche as the go-to guy for horror remakes. After making a name for himself with High Tension in 2003, he helmed the update of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes which was as good, if not better, than the original. (Mirrors, his remake of the Korean horror film Into the Mirror, didn’t fare as well but it did have that show-stopping scene of a naked Amy Smart ripping her jaws apart and Keifer Sutherland’s grimace to fall back on.) 

Aja wisely puts the emphasis on the yucks and yuks when he could have made the mistake of trying to make a darker, grittier “reimagining” of Joe Dante’s 1978 original. It seems like everyone wants to make their remake darker and grittier than the original (call it the Christopher Nolan Effect), even though it rarely works.  Instead, almost everything in P3D is played for laughs —  from the stunt casting of Richard Dreyfuss (Hey look! It’s Richard Dreyfuss! More or less reprising his role from Jaws!) and Christopher Lloyd (Hey look! It’s Christopher Lloyd in all of his excitable Great Scott, Marty! glory as the exposition-dispensing fish expert!), to the almost endless barrage of bare boobs and unprecedented carnage. And I’m not kidding when I say unprecedented. I can’t remember seeing so many gruesome effects and naked girls in a mainstream major release. And really — what exactly does it take to garner an NC-17 from the MPAA these days? It used to be, a single frame of penis was enough to condemn a movie to the arthouse circuit. So how does a movie with a gnawed off peeny being spit out by a fish (in 3D!), and a porn star motor-boatin’ Kelly Brook secure an R rating? Ours is not reason why, ours is to watch spring breakers die.

I loved P3D because it seems to love me right back.  The movie’s centerpiece, the first mass attack on oblivious drunk college students, is one of the greatest scenes of mayhem ever committed to celluloid. It takes about twenty minutes or so to get there, but when that feeding frenzy takes center stage, it’s filled with so many shocking moments you can’t wait to see what kind of graphic kill they’ll serve up next. It plays out like a Tex Avery cartoon directed by Sam Raimi. It’s the kind of gruesome fun I always thought the Final Destination series was close to tapping into, but that obviously isn’t panning out. Why waste time with the Saw movies’ junkyard gadgetry when all it takes is a single high-tension-wire-cuts-naked-girl-in-two gag to do the job? (Which: probably my favorite kill scene in the whole movie, mostly because it manages to trump a similar high-tension-wire bit that I found VERY effective in the otherwise lame Ghost Ship.)

I’ve only got a few beefs with P3D and here they are:
1. The 3D is so-so, which is really a shame because it looks like there were plenty of inventive 3D moments that fail because they just don’t pop off the screen. I mean, if you don’t duck when a fish spits a severed dick at you, something has gone afoul with your 3D.
2. Great actors are underused. I can write off Lloyd and Dreyfuss as cameos, but when you cast Ving Rhames in a movie, I advise that you keep him alive for longer than the first half of the movie. And while  I love that Elizabeth Shue called her agent back and said, “Yes, I’ll sign on for the killer fish movie,” she doesn’t really have any great moments that make her role memorable. She’s an accomplished actress (um, nominated for an Oscar even) but this role could have been played by anyone from Yasmin Bleeth to Carmen Electra.
3. …and speaking of Shue, how the holy hell do you cast the star of Adventures in Babysitting as a sheriff and not have her pay homage to that movie’s best line by saying: “Don’t FUCK…with the sheriff!” (On the other hand, I’m grateful that Ving Rhames was not asked to deliver any lines about “getting medieval” on any piranhas’ asses.)

Despite the tits, gnawed off members, and unparalleled gore, P3D is made with such a sense of giddy fun, it’s practically lovable.
*** (3 stars out of 4)

 Watch the trailer:

Watch a (uncharacteristicly) funny “Funny or Die” clip of Piranha‘s cast making a “for your consideration” plea for an Oscar nomination.

~ by Number5ive on October 3, 2010.

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