Title: Piranha 3D
Directed By: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen, Jerry O’Connell, Jessica Szohr, Ving Rhames, Adam Scott, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd, Brooklynn Proulx, Sage Ryan
I like campy horror flicks – a lot, probably too much. Piranha 3D looked to be everything I’d fall for; I’m a huge fan of director Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes, thought writers Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg’s last film, Sorority Row, was a ton of fun and am always eager to check out new and more grotesque ways of killing off characters. The problem is, Piranha lacks the fear and emotion of The Hills Have Eyes, isn’t half as witty as Sorority Row and almost entirely consists of the same kill over and over. It’s a good thing Piranha only clocks in at 89 minutes because that’s all it’s worth.
It’s spring break and the small town of Lake Victoria is a prime spot for those looking for a party. When the hordes of big-boobed, booze-guzzling students arrive, so does the entertainment like the wet t-shirt contest MC played by Eli Roth and pornographic moviemaker Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) and his Wild Wild Girls, Danni and Crystal (Kelly Brook and Riley Stelle). Meanwhile, Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) is just trying to keep the peace while her oldest son, Jake (Steven R. McQueen), keeps an eye on her little ones, Laura and Zane (Brooklynn Proulx and Sage Ryan).
Everyone’s plans change when an earthquake creates an underwater passageway to a lake beneath Lake Victoria releasing its inhabitants, hordes of man-eating piranha. Now rowdy partiers are the least of Julie’s problems. With the help of her deputy (Ving Rhames) and a visiting marine paleontologist (Adam Scott), she’s got to save as many spring breakers as possible before the piranha eat them up.
The premise is fantastic and Piranha 3D starts off in the best way possible, with a very old looking Richard Dreyfuss caught out in a fishing boat during the quake. From there, it’s really just a jumble of boobs, alcohol, creepy fish and a whole lot of blood, which is exactly what most would expect. But what’s also excepted of films of any kind is a decent story and beyond Piranha’s premise, there isn’t much there. Every character has his or her tale, but nobody makes a decent connection.
The ones who come closest to being involved in an endearing subplot are Jake and the girl he’s always had a crush on, Kelly (Jessica Szohr). Jake is supposed to be babysitting his younger brother and sister, but pays them off so he can be Derrick’s location scout. On the way to Derrick’s boat, Jake bumps into Kelly, Derrick takes one look at her and invites her aboard. Neither delivers a particularly impressive performance, but amidst all of the carnage and soft-core porn, their minimal chemistry is really the only source of emotion to latch on to. Kids are inherently cute, so regardless of some irritating banter, both Proulx and Ryan make nice additions as Jake’s siblings. They show off a more notable degree of chemistry when they opt to take their small boat and row out to an island to fish and wind up stranded when they forget to secure the vessel.
Unfortunately, Shue doesn’t fair as well. It’s too bad because she does a great job with what she’s given; if only her character wasn’t reduced to the standard strict cop clichés. The same goes for Brook and Steele, but mainly Steele. She’s stuck alongside O’Connell who’s easily the film’s most annoying character and gets completely sucked into his over the top shtick. Brook, on the other hand, solidifies herself as a winner during her very first moment on screen. She shares a nice chat with McQueen and manages to maintain enough of a distance from the whole Wild Wild Girls thing to remain likeable throughout. O’Connell is really a killer, more so than those piranha. Yes, he’s supposed to be a formulaic, sex-obsessed, hyped up director, but he takes it way too far and it just becomes bothersome.
Another element that will likely rub some the wrong way are the visuals. First up is the excessive amount of boobs. Okay, guys like to see a nice set of jugs – real or fake – but what about all of the ladies seeing this film? Boobs are fine, but there was no need to include so much nakedness that Piranha would feel like a legitimate porno. Now for the gore. Some of it is downright fantastic. It’s sad to see Ricardo Chavira and Dina Meyer wasted in such minimal roles, but they bite it in an incredible scene. Then there’s the piranha attack on party central at Lake Victoria. You’ve got people with holes in their backs, some missing limbs, others getting chopped in half and it all looks gorgeous. The only problem is that there is so much bloodshed and so many shots of piranha chomping at swimmers that after the big moment, you’ve had enough. But this is a movie about man-eating piranha, so where do you go from there? Nowhere. You just endure more of the same. It’s a cool kill for a while, but grows old fast.
Lastly, yet again, the use of the third dimension is weak. Normally the criticism stems from the fact that it was used in a gimmicky fashion, unnecessarily flinging obscure objects at the audience, but here that doesn’t happen. In fact, nothing really pops out at you at all. The only items that look noticeably good in terms of the technology are the title and opening credits.
Piranha isn’t all that bad, but it’s not as fun as expected. I much prefer Goldfinger and Stolberg’s last film Sorority Row. Now that was a blast. There was still a lot of nakedness and crude humor, but it was a much more engaging story, ten times scarier and absolutely hilarious. Piranha would be passable if it was more frightening, but so much attention is paid to the crude humor and nudity they completely dissolve every element with the potential to be terrifying, leaving us with only a few cheap pop-up-out-of-nowhere scares.
By Perri Nemiroff