Piranha (2010) aka Piranha 3D
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Steven R. McQueen, Elisabeth Shue, Jessica Szohr, Ving Rhames, Jerry O’Connell, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele, Adam Scott, Brooklynn Proulx, Sage Ryan, Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, Cody Longo, Ricardo Chavira, Dina Meyer, Paul Scheer
(out of 4)
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
“Can’t go wrong with mutant volcano fishes eating sexy, young college kids.” That’s what my friend Jeff said about Alexandre Aja’s Piranha (ake Piranha 3D), a remake of the Joe Dante film from 1978. That’s a dead-on description of the film, which is filled with enough boobs and blood to satiate the appetites of hormonal teens and red-blooded males everywhere, while being as tongue in cheek as possible about it. Say this for Aja – he knows what fans want, and he gives it to them, PC-free (well, almost – children are spared). Piranha 2010 is drive-in camp/exploitation that has nothing grandiose to say beyond the message that sexual predators are jerks (while at the same time giving us lots of breasts to leer at, so what’s that make us?) and that sinners will suffer God’s just punishment (Aja’s throwback to the 70s/80s flicks he enjoys). Otherwise, Aja just wants to party, so the use of spring break as the center of the action makes a lot of sense. The result gives the film a care-free attitude similar to that of your typical high-schooler/college kid partier – not too interested in subtext (the anti-authoritarian/anti-government themes of the original are discarded – in fact, the authorities are the heroes here), but totally interested in what’s prurient and adrenaline-pumping.
To let you know where they are coming from, the creators of Piranha kill off Matt Hooper (a great Richard Dreyfuss cameo), who is singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home” before he is torn apart by prehistoric piranha fish* freed from their ancient subterranean lake by an earthquake. I guess it wasn’t safe for him to go back into the water after all. In the meantime, Jake (Steve McQueen’s grandson Steven McQueen) is asked by his mother, Sheriff Julie Forester (Elizabeth Shue) to babysit his little brother and sister again, when what he really wants to do is party with the spring breakers who have gathered in their town of Lake Havasu (sorry – “Lake Victoria”). (Tourist Alert! For those who haven’t been to Arizona, Lake Havasu is the man-made lake created by the Parker Dam. Lake Havasu City also has the London Bridge). Luckily, Jake happens upon Joe Francis – um, I mean Derrick Jones, creator of the Girls Gone Wild – um, I mean Wild Wild Girls – series of videos. Derrick hires Jake as a “sand-rat” to help him on location scouting. This leads Jake to pay his little sister $60 to stay out of trouble while he hits the waters with his mutual crush Kelly (Jessica Szohr) and two other hotties with no inhibitions (UK model Kelly Brook, and porn star Riley Steele). Brook and Steele perform a nude underwater ballet for a few minutes (while The Flower Duet from Lakmé plays) that has nothing to do with anything, and yet I can’t imagine the movie without it. In the meantime, Sheriff Julie and Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) accompany some divers (including Dina Meyer) out to the epicenter of the quake, where the divers are chomped up real good. Local pet store owner Mr. Goodman (another fun cameo by Christopher Lloyd) also happens to be an expert on piranha (conveniently) and delivers a small lesson in Doc Brown mode (I was disappointed not to get a blackboard or scale model, at least). It turns out that there are thousands of these things and it’s bad news all around for the spring breakers, with their beer, drugs, and wet T-shirt contests hosted by Eli Roth.
The main sequence of Piranha is the spring break attack scene, called the D-Day sequence by Aja, which is gleeful in its depiction of body parts, half-eaten faces, decapitations, and even a scalping-by-boat-motor. There’s another sequence where Joe Francis- er, Derrick – is eaten from the waste down. His first words are: “They took my penis!” Cut to a scene where the silicone implants of a female victim float to the surface, followed by Derrick’s severed member being chewed up and then spit out by a piranha (man-whores are diseased – the piranha knows this). Piranha 2010 makes no bones about punishing these beautiful, vain sinners – first by showing them off in a montage of jiggling breasts and asses (including some more adult film stars like Ashlynn Brooke and Gianna Michaels) and then proceeding to destroy their bodies in exceedingly gruesome ways. On occasion, Aja punishes the audience for their leering too – the promise of a makeout session between Jake and Kelly ends with Kelly puking into the camera (a nice 3D effect for the audience, I’m sure!) Regarding the 3D – I did not catch Piranha 3D in the theater so I can’t speak to its effectiveness, but the 2D version on DVD looks very good and there aren’t too many scenes where I felt I was missing out by not having the glasses, unlike a movie like Friday the 13th Part 3, whose obviously 3D-tailored effects lose their polish on video. The weakness in Piranha is, not surprisingly, the bad CGI effects – my best guess is that there were too many cooks in the kitchen (Gradient, Spin VFX, Flat Earth, Intelligent Creatures – you would think somebody among them would know how to do CGI properly). Fortunately, the makeup effects by Howard Berger compensate for this.
The ending of Piranha 2010 mimics the ending of Dante’s film – the old “tie me to a rope and drag me outta here before the bomb goes off” scenario – but if you’re going to pay homage, that seems the obvious choice of sequence to use. I actually prefer this version over the original because it has a lot more energy (and the ramped up gore/nudity work better with the silly killer-fish storyline), not to mention the fact that $25 million went into making the thing, and the creators seem to have made every penny count (except, of course, for the CGI). The film is closer in tone, if you can believe it, to Piranha 2: The Spawning, but the less said about that flick the better. Piranha is, along with Machete, about as close to modern grindhouse as you can get these days (and it’s even more bizarre that these movies are put out by big budget studios). I consider it a guilty pleasure and will take it before the MPAA wakes up from their slumber.
- Bill Gordon
Trivia Update: I didn’t know this until after writing the review, but apparently this is the 2nd remake of the original. The first remake was a TV version starring William Katt, Alexandra Paul, and Monte Markham!
More Trivia: A Piranha sequel has been greenlit. It’s called Piranha 3DD (haha) and will be directed by John Gulager (the Feast trilogy) with Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (Feast Trilogy, last 4 Saw movies, The Collector) writing. Ving Rhames returns.
* According to Wiki, Piranha are actually “generally timid scavengers, fulfilling a role similar to flocks of vultures on land.” Chances of them attacking humans are slim to none.