Sunday, July 21, 2013

Piranha 3D

A remake of Piranha is doing something right when the first victim of the titular killer fish is Richard Dreyfuss singing the same sea shanty he sung in Jaws (and even drinking the same beer!). That same remake is probably doing something wrong when I find myself growing bored with all the scenes of hapless human victims being shredded into Scooby snack-sized bits.

The original Piranha was made in 1978. Produced by Roger Corman and directed by Joe Dante, it was a silly but effective parody of the then-recent Jaws (reportedly even Steven Spielberg enjoyed it). Piranha II: The Spawning came out in 1981 and was the directorial debut of none other than James Cameron, though he would claim that honor belongs to The Terminator (Wouldn't you?). For this rather slight series, that's actually a fair amount of behind-of-scenes talent it was able to include.

Piranha 3D (2010), which is a remake and not a second sequel the title implies (there seemed to be a rule in the '80s that all the third parts in a franchise had to be in 3D), was directed by Alexandre Aja, the French horror director of High Tension and another remake, The Hills Have Eyes. Those earlier pictures of his were grim, graphic, and shocking, and High Tension in particular showcased a willingness to shatter taboos and decorum while maintaining the ability to generate tension and suspense. The point is the tone of Aja's previous movies did not to me suggest a director who would be interested in making a movie this kitschy and tongue-in-cheek; this is the kind of juvenile shtick I'd expect from Eli Roth, who turns up here as the MC of a wet t-shirt contest and gets decapitated by a boat (I'm sure he enjoyed that).

All right, on with the plot, as if you cretins care. It's spring break in the town of Lake Victoria, Ariz., and thousands of drunk, horny people have descended upon the popular vacation destination. Sheriff Julie Forester (Elizabeth Shue) tries to keep order with her deputy, Fallon (Ving Rhames, who apparently has made remakes his thing), while ordering her 17-year-old son Jake (Steven R. McQueen, Steve McQueen's grandson) to babysit his younger siblings. However, he gets recruited to be a tour guide for Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell), a pornographer looking to shoot his next video at Lake Victoria. Meanwhile, an earthquake has opened a fissure in the bottom of the lake, unleashing a swarm of prehistoric, carnivorous piranha that soon turn everything into one big smorgasbord, and Christopher Lloyd turns up as a kooky marine biologist who explains everything we need to know about these fish.

Piranha 3D promises and delivers two things: boobs and blood, and there is a plethora of both. There is no shortage of women in bikinis, women in bikini taking their tops off, or women in bikinis getting devoured by swarms of hungry fish. Don't worry, plenty of guys getting munched too; most of them were chauvinistic pigs and jerks, like the idiot who tries to drive his boat out of the feeding frenzy by going right through people in the water and ends up getting knocked in himself. The plentiful gore is quite nasty and disgusting; had the effects been more realistic, instead of obviously fake, it might have been hard to watch.

The movie's tone is tongue in cheek. The piranhas themselves aren't particular photorealistic but have a fitting cartoon, aggressive design. The aforementioned wet t-shirt contest carries the moniker "Dying to Get Wet," characters always find stupid ways to fall into the water to their deaths, and Lloyd plays his part as a cross between Doc. Brown and Rev. Jim. The little sister also gets some funny smart-ass lines when she calls it like she sees it.

All of this is fun for a while, but I found myself tiring of it around the hour mark. There's only so many ways a person can fall into the water to be devoured by a swarm of angry fish before it becomes repetitive, and while some of the characters are fun, most of them are just too bland, serving mostly as meat on the hook or being the uninteresting romantic couple. Movies like Tremors and the original Piranha have a sense of buildup, mystery, and discovery. Here, we in the audience know from the start what the threat is, and the characters are playing catch up.

I did like Shue as the sheriff, getting the Roy Scheider role as the level-headed responsible one, and Rhames, though only in a couple of scenes, gets a great moment worthy of Bruce Campbell when he yanks an engine off a motor boat and uses it to cut down the incoming piranha swarm. As the porn maker, O'Connell is mixed; with lines like "It's never cheating if it's with another chick" (directed to the underage girl he's trying to get into his movie), the character is so shamelessly self-absorbed he goes back and forth between entertaining and irritating.

At least his death is a fitting one. His legs reduced to bloody skeletal bits, he laments, "They took my penis!" Cut to an underwater shot of the severed member floating just before a hungry fish swoops in and munches on it.

Is that something you wish to see for yourself? Only you can answer that question.

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