Following on from 2008’s horrendous Mirrors, French director Alexandre Aja decided to tackle a remake of Joe Dante’s cheap seventies thriller Piranha, a movie remembered more for its overwhelming campiness rather than any substantial filmmaking value. Hopes weren’t especially high given delays in the picture’s release and a desire to hide the finished article away from critics until the bitter end, but against all odds Piranha 3D arrives as an agreeable and entertaining dose of contemporary schlock. Aja stacks the film with blood, boobs and flesh eating fish galore, which along with some surprisingly creative death sequences makes for a fun tongue in cheek cinematic experience.
At Lake Victoria Spring Break is about to commence, meaning that hundreds of nubile young students are preparing to drink, skinny-dip and generally pollute the area during an extended weekend of debauchery. However coinciding with the partying is an underwater earthquake, which unleashes a mass of prehistoric and extremely vicious Piranha into the local environment. As the fish begin to feast, local Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) and her deputy (Ving Rhames) try to shepherd the drunken adolescents out of the local beaches, whilst also plotting a method of eliminating the piranha menace. However to complicate matters the Sheriff’s son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) is stranded on a boat with a crazed porn director (Jerry O’Connell) and his attractive cast (Kelly Brook and real life adult film star Riley Steele), making them perfect targets for Lake Victoria’s toothy newcomers.
Joe Dante’s original film might be remembered fondly by some as a lively piece of old school trash, but great cinema it wasn’t. Alexandre Aja’s reimagining has no added pretensions but it executes the bloodshed and carnage in a far more polished and satisfactory fashion, the higher budget and greater understanding of B-movie thrills allowing Piranha 3D to surpass its predecessor in every possible way. The film is pure exploitation from start to finish, revelling in oodles of gore and gratuitous nudity, all helped thanks to a neat pace and some affable performances. The scripting and characterization are pretty thin, but Piranha 3D embraces its deficiencies and celebrates its cheesy tone with style and a wicked sense of humour. Movies released at the end of August aren’t usually renowned for their quality, but Piranha 3D is a genuinely fun late summer diversion.
Much like their director, the cast of Piranha 3D are fully aware of how silly the film they’re involved with is. Everyone is simply onboard to deliver cartoonish caricatures or get totally naked, with the exception of Elisabeth Shue who actually makes her slight character into a likable and fully sympathetic screen presence. It’s a strong performance and one that’s aided by some wonderfully over the top support. As a specialist brought onboard to investigate the earthquake Adam Scott is delightfully witty, whilst Jerry O’Connell dials it up to 11 as a drugged up pornographer. Both actors are very watchable in Piranha 3D and make a favourable impression, each obviously understanding the aims and limitations of the screenplay perfectly. A token teen romance is thrown into the mix (between the bland pairing of McQueen and Jessica Szohr) but colourful cameos from Christopher Lloyd and Eli Roth help ease such mild pains. Ving Rhames is perhaps a tad underused but is always a convincing badass, whilst Kelly Brook and Riley Steele both bring stunning physiques but little else. Fans of Jaws will also sight Richard Dreyfuss in a pre-credits scene as a character called Matt, an obvious tribute to Spielberg’s legendary thriller.
The screenplay is pickled with quotable lines and whilst the story is exceptionally basic, the Piranha induced death sequences aren’t. Aja demonstrates some genuine visual creativity with Piranha 3D, presenting sequences in which Piranhas burst out from screaming mouths, boat propellers scalp unlucky swimmers and penises are eaten and then cheekily regurgitated. The levels of gore are insane, with some terrific prosthetic effects being used to highlight just how violent this picture can get. The CGI fish aren’t as well rendered but the 3D is surprisingly welcome here, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Piranha 3D is the best I’ve seen the technology utilized since Avatar. Aja understands that in his film 3D is strictly a gimmick, thus throwing as many screen popping severed limbs and oversized breasts as he can at the audience. Everything about the film is played for corny giggles or low rent excitement, Aja even having included a nude underwater ballet between Brook and Steele to really get the fanboys talking. Adding an extra dollop of pleasure to proceedings is the fact this visceral offering clocks in at a minor 88 minutes, the perfect length for an effort this inherently undemanding.
The film’s sunny locations are cosily shot, the cinematography simple but perfectly ample for the movie at hand. At times some of the underwater action can become distorted and a little murky, but during the bloody climax everything is crystal clear in all its gory glory. Piranha 3D is a proper piece of lightweight summer cinema, albeit an example that those with an aversion to mutilation and nakedness should probably avoid. It isn’t going to be troubling the academy come next year, but Piranha 3D is an enjoyably ridiculous creature feature none the less.
Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Kelly Brook
Runtime: 89 min