Early Thoughts on Piranha 3D

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Someone’s seen Aja’s latest…

Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3-D marks a fierce return to form after the director’s lackluster Mirrors. Curiously, the Frenchman’s latest brings to mind a pair of creature features with Samuel L. Jackson: Snakes on a Plane and Deep Blue Sea. It succeeds as the over-the-top spectacle SoaP was hyped to be, and feels in many ways like the Deep Blue Sea sequel that never happened.

Currently scheduled to open on April 16 next year, a rough cut of the horror-comedy screened last night in New Jersey (a fitting location, considering all the spray-tanned spring breakers we watch die by the boatload in this remake), sans 3D, with temporary effects, and music cues culled from The Dark Knight and 28 Days Later.

Even in its two-dimensional nascent state, with glossy, unfinished fish, the movie delivers as an exercise in excess. Aja has essentially fused retro, ‘80s-style horror (the KNB gore effects are largely practical) with the modern-day disaster movie. Think Joe Dante meets Roland Emmerich, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Piranha 3-D’s soon-to-be infamous “marina massacre” – a lengthy, literal bloodbath with thousands of chomping piranha feasting on half-naked partyers. The body count isn’t limited to feeding frenzy; plenty are dispatched in freak accidents that’ll more than satisfy those disappointed with the deaths in this year’s The Final Destination. Swimmers are unapologetically mowed down with speedboats, visor-wearing meat-heads’ skulls cracking like eggs, wet T-shirt contestants’ hair catching in propellers, with Elisabeth Shue and Adam Scott (as the town sheriff and a seismologist, respectively) squeezing off shotgun rounds into the crimson water. A snapping cable bisects a victim like a machete through butter. As her topless upper-half falls into the water, we follow it sinking to the lake floor. And much, much more mayhem, including Eli Roth receiving one of the best deaths. It has to be one of the most outrageous, bloodiest set pieces ever staged for a mainstream studio movie, recalling the House of Blue Leaves scene in Kill Bill: Vol 1. Since Tarantino had to ultimately present that scene in black-and-white stateside to appease the MPAA, Alexandre Aja is likely in for quite a fight.

The prudish will find as much to freak out over as the squeamish. Aja’s camera lingers on nudity as lovingly as it does on gore. For those who want the sleazy specifics (i.e. most of you), there’s an extended scene of underwater, slow-motion swimming with Kelly Brook and Riley Steele. Both are completely naked and uninhibited, legs not necessarily locked at the knees (little chance all of it will make the theatrical cut, but can you say Unrated Blu-Ray?). They also share a motorboat scene. For the uninitiated, I don’t mean a literal boat. There’s also some male mooning and Jerry O’Connell in a red Speedo, if that’s your cup.

Jaws fans will also find plenty to appreciate here, from Richard Dreyfuss drunkenly singing a familiar folk song in the opening scene, to Adam Scott (in what is essentially Dreyfuss’s Jaws role) mirroring young Spielberg for a moment in glasses and plaid. And what about those who love the ’78 Piranha? While the story is updated and the scale broadened, homage is paid and well-played… some of it involving innertubes. This writer missed the original’s eerie, chattering chorus as the piranha close in on the unsuspecting. Again, this was a rough cut, so hopefully that’ll be reinstated, with this early version’s overdone, metallic teeth-snapping sound effects reeled in. Also slightly troubling were instances of the CG stand-in piranha flopping about on land and on the decks of boats. It would have been nice to see some old school puppetry here, but perhaps the fully rendered piranha in the final cut will be terrific.

Shue herself well as the heroine, faring far better here than she did in Hollow Man. She has a strong presence in the action scenes, and believable maternal warmth opposite the three actors playing her children (none of whom give much to play off of). Amongst the supporting cast, the comedic relief stands out. Christopher Lloyd makes the most of his three scenes as a pet store owner and convenient piranha expert, delivering his lines with Doc Brown urgency, rivaling the titular terrors in scenery chewing. Paul Scheer is a lot of fun as an assistant to Jerry O’Connell’s send-up of Girls Gone Wild mogul Joe Francis. O’Connell meets a memorable, prolonged fate, but Scheer is frustratingly free of a proper send-off.

Tonally, this is very different terrain than the filmmaker’s Haute Tension and The Hills Have Eyes. Both of those films were virtually devoid of humor, whereas Piranha 3-D is packed to the gills with laughs. Oddly, invitations to the screening sold the movie as an “action-thriller.” This is horror-comedy, first and foremost, sharply written as horror-comedy, and skillfully directed as horror-comedy. Hopefully, in the wake of Zombieland’s success, its true nature will be embraced by the movie’s marketing team.

Source: Colin DeMarco