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Piranha 3D dives into the nostalgic horror of the 80’s with boobs and blood

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Let’s go down the bad taste checklist for Piranha 3D. Gratuitous shocking violence? Check! Piranha 3D photo: Dimension pictures? Horrible dialogue and cardboard characters? Check! Non-stop displays of female nudity? Check! Check! Check!

Piranha 3D may be the trashiest exploitation horror film in some time to get an actual theatrical release. This breed of horror died in the 80’s, so it’s indeed rare to see a film like this even get the green light. That being said, director Alexandre Aja certainly knows he’s flinging a whole lot of crap at the screen, and so he piles it on mercilessly. As a result, Piranha is a satisfyingly gore fest for those with low expectations.

The script, penned by Josh Stolberg (Sorority Row) is fairly idiotic, creating what barely resembles a plot beyond what anyone has seen in the TV commercials The basic jist is that a bunch of spring breakers gather along the hot spot Lake Victortia (looks like MTV beach from this end), and get ready to unleash a week of booze, sex, and naked people across the resort destination. The local sheriff Julie (Elisabeth Shue) is in charge of keeping these teens under control, and that includes her own son Jake (Steven R. McQueen), who is tempted to ditch his babysitting obligations and join in on the body shots and debauchery. Everything seems to be going well until a school of ravenous prehistoric piranha (unleashed by an underwater earthquake) show up hungry and really pissed off.

This is all a set up for director Aja to do his tasteless best, and for the most part he succeeds. The movie is a teenage boy’s wet dream. T&A gets more screen time than the fish, as shown during a ten minute underwater ballet between two naked chicks. Then there’s the blood. Aja’s massive massacre sequence, which oddly occurs before the climax, is an orgy of dismemberment that has to be seen to be believed. Anonymous college kids positioned like fishing lures get yanked under the water one by one either to return to the surface in pieces or not at all. Kids are mauled, sliced and half and decapitated by boats, and in one nasty little moment a girls hair gets caught in a boat propeller with cringe inducing results. The whole thing is shot with the sense of nasty, blackly comic glee that only a director like Aja (or perhaps Eli Roth) could orchestrate. When a topless parasailor lands in the water for a moment, only to be pulled out seconds later without any limbs, the reaction is one of both disgust and laughter. That’s the balance Aja was aiming for, and he hits the bull’s-eye.

The acting is appropriately campy across the board. Shue (looking hot at 40 plus) dons the cliché sheriff’s outfit and delivers the over the top dialogue with panache. The same goes for Christopher Lloyd in a ridiculous cameo moment. Ving Rhames gets to whoop some piranha ass with a boat propeller. Adam Scott really brings a sense of humor and levity to the proceedings, and the two kid actors (Jessica Szohr and McQueen) are much more respectable than one would think for this type of film. Finally, the film affectionately tips its hat off to Jaws with a Richard Dreyfuss appearance during the film’s opening moments.

Piranha 3D is certainly not high art, though it never expects to be. As far as trashy, visceral thrills go, the film delivers. It never does, however, aspire to reach the heights of B movie greatness that, for example, the 70’s original did. Thus, as a result, Piranha is a good time, but because of its low ambitions, winds up being merely passable when it could have achieved schlocky greatness had it tried a bit harder.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

Photos courtesy of Dimension