© 2010 Ray Wong
It's been a while since we've seen a truly gratuitous, gory, bloody horror B-movie that is not a spoof of the genre (the "Scary Movies" series), starring some horrific creatures. If you're looking for something like that, you're in for a treat with Piranhas 3D.
Residents of the quiet town near Lake Victoria have only one thing to look forward to (or dread) every year: college spring break. A few days before the festivities begin, a seismic event opens up an underwater passage to a subterranean lake, unleashing thousands of prehistoric piranhas. When Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) and her deputy (Ving Rhames) discover the body of a local (Richard Dreyfuss), they realize something unusual has happened and call for help.
Meanwhile, spring break is in full swing. Forester's son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) has the hots for the returning student named Kelly (Jessica Szohr). He accepts a job from porn director Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell) who is in town to film the Wild, Wild, Wild Girls on Spring Break with two of his stars (Kelly Brook, Riley Steele). Jake manages to string Kelly along and they set out to certain remote areas.
When seismologist Novak (Adam Scott) arrives with his team to help Forester, they realize they have a huge problem in their hands and they must close the lake and shut down spring break. Easier said than done. Soon, the piranhas find their ways to the buffet… I mean, the festivities, and a feast… I mean, mayhem ensures.
Piranhas 3D has a true ensemble cast. There's the young romantic hero Jake Forester played by Steven R. McQueen (The Vampire Diaries), Steve McQueen's grandson. He has that boy-next-door quality and his performance is understated and adequate, given the little depth his character requires. Elisabeth Shue (Hamlet 2) is sexy and cool as Jake's mother and Sheriff of the doomed lakeside town. Ving Rhames (Surrogates) plays the deputy with heroic brawniness.
Jerry O'Connell (Obsessed) is deliciously creepy as the douchebag porn director, with a bunch of real porn stars under his wings. Adam Scott (Leap Year) gets to play a good guy here as the seismologist. Jessica Szohr (Fired Up!) is cute and fun as Jake's love interest, but she, too, lacks real materials to go deeper with her character.
The cameos are great, though, starting with Richard Dreyfuss (W) giving a great send-off to his Matt Hooper in JAWS. Eli Roth (Inglorious Basterds) has a great time playing a wet T-shirt host. And Christopher Lloyd (Wolf Sheep) does a great sendup of Doc Brown (from Back to the Future) as Mr. Goodman.
The screenplay by Pete Goldfinger (Sorority Row) and Josh Stolberg (Sorority Row) borrows everything from JAWS to Night of the Living Dead. The story is just an excuse for gore, nudity, and violent deaths. Surprisingly, though, the plot holds up very well, despite the requisite cheese and gratuitousness. The arc is typical, stereotypical even. We know where it's all going, with the multiple threads and the largely unseen fish lurking in the murky water. We expect the cheesy and the predictability, and we can't wait when all Hell breaks loose.
That said, the plot, after the prologue, does take a bit too long to unfold. I understand there's a myriad of characters to introduce and a need to build it up. Still, there are enough unnecessary characters (such as Kelly's obnoxious boyfriend and his friend) that rather just muddle everything. And some of the plot twists are ridiculous, even for a B-movie. The dialogue is pure cheese, but there's enough humor -- potty or otherwise -- to defuse some of the intensity.
Director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes), however, does a great job putting the film together. For a B-movie, it looks and feels extraordinarily professional and cinematic. The special effects range from cheesy to impressive. The choreography of action and mayhem is entertaining and well done. The makeup effects, by KNB Effects Group, are awesome, possibly some of the best in the business. There are half-eaten corpses, mutilated bodies, decapitation, dismemberment… you name it, and they are all excellent.
However, don't waste your money on 3D. Watch the 2D projection instead. The 3D is poorly done, and it gives me a headache. Perhaps they're trying to reproduce the cheesy 3D sensation we got during the JAWS 3D days, but in these days when we expect nothing less than the brilliant 3D of Avatar, it falls way short.
Piranhas 3D is not going to win any Oscars or any awards other than MTV or some such, but as a movie of its unique genre, it is well made and it does the job to entertain. Does it scare us the way JAWS did 35 years ago? No. That movie is a classic. But as a gory and hilarious takeoff on creature movies, it's succeeded to give us the thrills, the gore, and the laughter that are perfect for a late summer day. The B-movie-loving piranhas should be happy to chomp this one up.
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth, Jerry O'Connell, Steven R. McQueen, Adam Scott, Jessica Szohr
Director: Alexandre Aja
Writers: Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg
Distributor: Dimension Films
MPAA Rating: R of sequences of strong bloody horror, violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use
Running Time: 89 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.7 out of 10