Elisabeth Shue - Sheriff Julie Forrester
Steven R. McQueen - Jake Forrester
Jerry O'Connell - Derrick Jones
Jessica Szohr - Kelly
Adam Scott - Novak
Kelly Brook - Danni
Ving Rhames - Deputy Fallon
Christopher Lloyd - Carl Goodman
Genre - Horror/Comedy/B-Movie/Cult/Remake/Killer Animals
Running Time - 88 Minutes
Last August, I reviewed one of the most popular "Animals Run Amok" films called PIRANHA. Directed by future THE HOWLING and GREMLINS director Joe Dante, 1978's PIRANHA was pretty much a Roger Corman produced B-movie that capitalized on the success of Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster smash, JAWS. PIRANHA, while nowhere as great as JAWS, still manages to be a good time even 33 years later.
PIRANHA was a success when it was released, managing to maintain a higher quality of watchability compared to other JAWS ripoffs out there. It even had a sequel in 1981 called PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING, which was James Cameron's directorial debut [in name only really, as he was fired two weeks into production due to conflicts with producers]. In 1995, PIRANHA was remade for the Showtime Network, starring William Katt, Alexandra Paul, and a young Mila Kunis. It's not a great remake and you wouldn't be missing much if you haven't seen it.
Last year, a second remake was released to erase the bad taste the first remake had created, plus make money for the struggling Dimension Films as the studio capitalized on both the remake and 3D trend [even though it had planned to be a 3D film even before 3D became a fad after AVATAR]. PIRANHA 3D, directed by HAUTE TENSION's Alexandre Aja, was released towards the end of the Summer movie season to better-than-expected success. The 3D effects, done after the film was shot, looked decent and even enhanced the enjoyment of the film at parts. The real question was if PIRANHA 3D would work well in regular 2D as well for the home video market. Suffice to say, PIRANHA (2010) is still a fun time no matter how you watch it.
JAWS' Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss in a fun cameo) is ripped to shreds by prehistoric piranha after an earthquake releases them from where they've been hiding. As the piranha continue to travel through Lake Victoria in Arizona, Sheriff Julie Forrester (Elisabeth Shue) asks her son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) to babysit his little brother and sister. Jake, being the teenager that he is, just wants to party as Lake Victoria is hosting Spring Break festivities.
Lucky for Jake, he gets recruited by Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell), who is the creator of a porn video series similar to Girls Gone Wild. Derrick hires Jake as a "sand-rat", meaning he wants Jake to take him on a tour of the lake to film some scenes for his latest film. Jake pays off his younger siblings $60 to stay home and out of trouble while he sails with his crush Kelly (Jessica Szohr) and two of Derrick's porn stars (Kelly Brook and Riley Steele).
In the meantime, Sheriff Julie and Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) find Hooper's corpse, wanting to know what happened to him. They accompany some divers (Adam Scott, Dina Meyer, and Richard Chavira) to the quake's epicenter hoping to find some answers. After two of the divers take a look and are eaten by piranha, Julie, Fallon, and Novak capture one of the fish. They take it to a local pet shop owner named Mr. Goodman (Christopher Lloyd), who knows a thing or two about piranha and explains that this type of piranha was thought to be long extinct and very dangerous. Realizing that there are more of them out there, our protagonists must stop them from ruining Spring Break and eating the tourists.
PIRANHA 3D is nothing but a dumb, entertaining time that's more about boobs and gore rather than telling its audience a heart-warming story that will bring a tear to a fan's eye. In fact, while it does take some moments from the original PIRANHA, this remake is also a silly homage to JAWS - even taking some of its score and creating visuals that are similar to Spielberg's classic horror film. It knows what it is and never takes itself seriously at all - which makes it a great B-movie/exploitation flick.
Discussing the narrative to PIRANHA 3D is probably moot since this film is not about the story at all. Still, every film does need some sort of narrative and should be talked about. PIRANHA 3D has a pretty simple plot: A quake releases ancient and deadly piranha - Spring Break is taking place where the piranha were released - horror ensues. Everything else is just a bonus. The simple plot is done very well, as we understand exactly what's going on and what will eventually occur from the moment the piranha are released [which happens right from the first scene without hesitation]. We could ask how these piranha survived for so long. We could question how no one else felt this earthquake besides Matt Hooper - an earthquake that was strong enough to open the ocean floor and release supposedly extinct fish. We could even scratch our heads at the coincidence of the timing of this attack during a huge tourist season like Spring Break. But this film doesn't require you to ask questions. In fact, you're not supposed to. PIRANHA 3D is a film where you leave the brain at the door and just take it for as it is. Things happen in the film just because they do. This may be a problem in other films, but if you have that issue with a movie called PIRANHA, then you need to take that stick out of your ass and learn how to enjoy a film without questioning every motive. Even with its lack of logic and random happenings, the film still makes sense and works in context of how it's presented to the audience.
The characters in PIRANHA 3D aren't really developed much, but neither were the ones in the original. In fact, the purpose of all these characters is just for one reason: fish food. Sure, some of them have to live but we know most of them are here just to be torn apart by CGI fish. And that's more than fine here. Still, we do relate to some of the characters in bits. Jake's love for Kelly [and vice-versa] is set up well enough that we get that these two like each other. Jake's demand to save his siblings after they're stranded on the beach, because he's a good brother and because he doesn't want to get in trouble with his mom, shows that he's an actual human being surrounded by more cartoonish characters. Even the porn star, Danni, is given humanity as she flirts with Jake, yet realizes his feelings for Kelly and tries to push them together. And even though he's a caricature, Derrick's frat boy behavior is funny and endearing. He loves porn. He loves sex. He loves making money and taking every opportunity to make some. He also has the best dialogue in the film, which makes him pop out from the rest of the characters. He's not someone we can completely relate to, but we do understand where he's coming from regardless. I'm probably looking deeper into the characterizations than one probably should for this type of film, but when I see it, I'm gonna write about it. And even though PIRANHA 3D is silly fluff, there is some depth within the massive shallowness of it all.
PIRANHA 3D is really about moments, and this is where the film shines. The Matt Hooper cameo at the beginning is a great throwback to JAWS and its fans, bringing that character full circle to end things in a silly way. The underwater scene where Kelly Brook and Riley Steele are swimming, performing some sort of lesbian ballet [even while "The Flower Duet" from Lakme plays] has nothing to do with the story or even moves the film forward. But it's memorable because of how out of place it is and PIRANHA 3D probably wouldn't be the same without it. As a matter of fact, many of the moments involve nudity. From that wet T-shirt contest, to that girl who is paragliding with her jiggly boobs flopping around, and especially to the moment where the piranha bite off Derrick's penis where the piranha fight over it and end up spitting it out in disgust are great. The coup de grace, however, is the Spring Break scene where the piranha just maul the partiers in vicious ways. It's similar to the original's scene at the camp, but done with more gore and blood - as well as giving us a moment of one panicked partier getting her hair tangled to the propellers of a boat and getting it yanked so hard that it pulls the skin off of her face in one swift motion. That's the fun with PIRANHA - watching these stupid people get destroyed by fish and by each other's selfish needs, with nudity being a huge plus. That's why this film exists to begin with, and since it justifies it, how can I complain?
As a matter of fact, gorehounds will LOVE this movie. The SFX team and make-up people did a really great job visualizing the terror the piranha puts their victims through. We get people with missing skin, missing limbs, a blue lake that turns blood red with each attack, two girls sliced apart by cables that get loose, Eli Roth's head gets sliced off by a boat, the girl who gets her skin ripped off by her hair, and a piranha coming out of a victim's mouth after it chewed its way through her. Let's not forget Ving Rhames using the motor of a boat to kill some piranha, plus the explosion [which was taken from the original] at the end. There's something for everyone here. As for the look of the piranha, they look pretty stupid and unrealistic. As a matter of fact, they'd fit right in an Asylum production. But that's really the point, so I'll let it slide. And of course, the best SFX are the boobs we see throughout the film - well for me anyway. I'm surprised the MPAA didn't try to ban anything from this film before it was released to theaters. There were a lot more extreme things than most theatrical horror films are usually allowed to get away with here, especially during a "conservative" time like now.
The direction by Alexandre Aja isn't his best work [I prefer his direction on HAUTE TENSION and his 2006 remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES], but it's still a well-directed film that showcases the B-movie level of goodness PIRANHA 3D is trying to promote. The editing is a bit weird, especially when prolific characters just disappear out of the blue without an explanation [Paul Scheer's character is a big one] and when a scene goes into another scene as almost if I'm watching different movies in one. But the cinematography is very beautiful and the pacing is well-executed [it feels much shorter than 88 minutes]. While not a scary movie, there are genuine moments of tension and suspense, especially during the Spring Break Massacre scene and the final act with the Forresters. I always liked Aja's work, even in lesser films like MIRRORS. He's done three remakes in a row. Hopefully his next film will be an original piece.
The acting in PIRANHA 3D won't win awards, but it does what it's supposed to: create entertainment. Elisabeth Shue, still looking as hot as ever after all these years, does well as Sheriff Julie Forrester. She still continues to be a presence on screen and you're drawn to her even during lesser moments. Her talents are way above a film like this, but she always takes her work seriously and does so here. Steven R. McQueen [grandson of acting legend Steve McQueen] is decent as Jake. He's not the greatest young actor I've seen, but he carries much of the film well and he's convincing enough to make an appealing lead. I think the character deserved a more nerdier actor, but what can you do? Jerry O'Connell is the star of the film as porn director, Derrick Jones. He's so over-the-top and such a bastard that you can't help but love him. The moment where he loses his penis is just hilarious. Kelly Brook is great as the porn star with a heart of gold. She looks great naked too. Jessica Szohr is okay as Kelly. She really didn't do much for me really in terms of acting. Ving Rhames is just okay as the deputy. He doesn't really get much to do really. Adam Scott isn't given much to do either but does well with his role as Novak. Christopher Lloyd brings 'Doc Brown' back through his short appearance as Carl Goodman. Plus we get some nice cameos by Richard Dreyfuss, Dina Meyer, Paul Scheer, Eli Roth, and Ricardo Chavira, as well as some porn stars in Gianna Michaels, Ashlynn Brooke, and Riley Steele. A really diverse cast but it somehow works.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE WANTING MY OWN UNDERWATER SEQUENCE WITH KELLY BROOK
- Matt Hooper got caught in a whirlpool, which caused his boat to tip over and left him prey for piranha. You'd think after 35 years, Matt would have gotten that bigger and stronger boat.
- Danni is a "wild, wild girl". That means you'll be itching while your pee burns after she shows you a "wild" time.
- "Show a girl a camera and she will perform." I blame whoever created the camera for giving us Paris Hilton and those Kardashian reality shows.
- "It's not cheating if it's with another woman." I've been saying that to my ex-girlfriends for years! Rules are there for a reason, ladies...
- The piranha bit a victim in the ass and ate the rest of her. Like Sir Mix-A-Lot, they don't want none unless you got buns, hun!
- The piranha took Derrick's penis. Talk about pulling a muscle!
- Jake, not listening to his mom and refusing to babysit his siblings at home, had to deal with the killer piranha. Looks like the hell that comes with ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING run in the family!
THE FINAL HOWL
PIRANHA 3D is silly, stupid, and just a good ol' fun time. If you're looking for something with substance, this film is not for you. But if you're looking for a great popcorn flick for 90 minutes, this remake fits the bill. I think both the original and this remake are worth going out of your way to see if you're a genre fan. Hell, try and seek out the 1981 sequel as well if you love your killer fish movies. Even though it's being made by different people, I'm still looking forward to the sequel, PIRANHA 3DD, this November. Hopefully it'll be entertaining as this one.
3.5 Howls Outta 4