8/20/10

Review: Piranha 3D (2010)


Alexandre Aja's Piranha 3D is a pretty shocking, crazy movie. It's both better and worse than one might expect. It has no taste or pity, but quite a bit of ingenuity and courage in the face of absolute absurdity. Do not watch it if you get queasy at movie violence. Do watch it if you like this sort of thing.

North American piranha in an inland lake? There's a bare scientific cover which convinces no one, but gives the excuse for a not-particularly-outstanding Christopher Lloyd cameo, and is of course the necessary incantation which materializes this jolly, bloody breasts-and-jests fest.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona, plays Lake Victoria, Arizona, in this schlocky, plama- and waterlogged spring break terror tripe, and that's a hint of the range required from all of the stand-ins. The piranha are the stars, indisputably, though a lot of their impact rides beneath the surface, necessarily. We see a lot of their toothiwork.

There's no acting in this film. The actors are cogs in the effects machine, lucky if they hang on to any credibility at all. Some do. It's nice to see Elizabeth Shue in an action role, she should get more (and better). Ving Rhames is criminally underused, but his part is priceless. The device of little kids in danger, while an overused staple, does build a good bit of needed suspense to mix things up between the carnage, cleavage, gasps and laughs. And Jerry O'Connell goes all in on smarminess as a clone of the "Girls Gone Wild" guy, I forget his name.

Like in The Final Destination, there are a lot of Rube Goldberg-ian death machines made up out of common objects here, and indeed that's a lot of the point of both movies, just to see that, and in 3-D. But in The Final Destination, that's pretty much all that's going on, entertaining as much of it is.

There's a bit more meta-play in Piranha 3D, and some of it's pretty skillful. If you can think of a way a piranha could kill or injure someone, you're too late, they're all here. If you can think of a way to connect a piranha injury in two or three easy steps to much more serious injuries, just face it, you got beat.

The ridiculous scientific explanation for these darn killer fish provides a vehicle for the film to be colder, funnier, stupider and more violent than the vague but overdissected-in-dialogue survivor curse from the Final Destination films. It allows the film to be positively dancingly amoral, and blame it on science. What's a mere filmmaker to do? These fish are hungry.

Despite the fact that I am giving it my slightest recommendation, after careful consideration, I must say that there are some stunning sequences in this film which will live for all time. One character's boyfriend thinks he'll ride to the rescue, and that is sort of complicated and funny. Ving Rhames has a very wacky scene with a boat motor in ankle-deep water, set to comically heroic strains on the soundtrack; it reminded me of the floppy monsters in Ed Wood (and the actual Ed Wood films) and Steve Martin in All of Me. There are a couple of other notable and amusing cameos besides Christopher Lloyd's that I won't spoil. Eli Roth, in particular, probably could have had a V8.

Piranha 3D is some memorably terrible b.s., nearly impossible to place on any known scale of irony, camp or horror. It is not great, but it is a gory thrill ride. I may never erase some of the terrible images from this film from my mind. I can feel them unsubtly rotting my brain and soul already. Ah, well, occupational hazard. Take your own chances. In a situation like this, it's every man or fish for himself.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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