Movie Review: Piranha 3D (2010)

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Photo: Dimension Films

Piranha 3D delivers tons of blood, gore and boobs and wastes no time on character build-up or back-story. Before the title card even shows, a minor earthquake opens up an underground lake beneath the fictional Lake Victoria and thousands of prehistoric piranha are unleashed upon unsuspecting spring breakers. Essentially, director Alexandre Aja did everything necessary to make sure Piranha didn’t get bogged down in mindless exposition, and yet, I didn’t have all that much fun. However, the reason for this isn’t too hard to figure out.

Here in the Emerald City critics were not invited to screen Piranha prior to release. Typically these screenings are loaded with movie fans and, if you’re lucky, the target audience for such films. This can weigh heavily on the experience you have with movies of this sort.

So, when I walked into an 11:40 AM matinee on the first day of release and settled into my seat surrounded by seven other moviegoers to make sure I could post a review it wasn’t an atmosphere conducive to much fun. I didn’t know what the hairy man three rows down to my right was doing and why he was moving like that, and I couldn’t quite make out the ramblings of the gentleman four rows back and off in the corner. In all honesty, I was more afraid of these two men than anything I saw on the screen.

This said, I would assume the proper time for screening Piranha will pass quickly. Midnight the day of release may have been a good time. Perhaps Friday and Saturday night will bring out the audience necessary to enjoy a film where the majority of the audience should be groaning with joy as a young woman gets her hair tangled in a boat motor and subsequently has her face ripped off. Or when one man has the lower half of his body devoured by the hungry fish and his only concern is that they ate his penis; a penis we later see fleshed out in CG and fought over by a pair of the voracious little swimmers.

However, it isn’t as if Piranha is some kind of great film, B-movie kitsch aside. If you’re fed up with CGI you may as well give up on this one immediately. The computer generated piranha are in no way frightening or even all that interesting. In fact, the CGI is terrible, but not to the point it seems purposeful as much as it seems as if they just didn’t care. The 3D gimmickry is worthless and the 2D-to-3D conversion once again fails. Worst is the water, which is turned into some sort of rippled goo that rises above the horizon and off into some weird fourth dimension. It plays with the eyes, and not in a good way.

Elisabeth Shue plays town sheriff and tough gal mother in charge of controlling the scene, while worrying about her son whom she doesn’t know is off with O’Connell making “movies.” She suits the role fine and plays it entirely straight, which is another example of something that would likely play better to a large crowd, especially when she decides shooting her taser into the water is a good option. Yeah, that takes care of one fish. I can laugh at it now, I only managed a minor chuckle then.

Christopher Lloyd offers a bit of nostalgia and Eli Roth’s time onscreen is just long enough to add a little more blood to the proceedings. Jerry O’Connell plays a knock-off of “Girls Gone Wild” founder Joe Francis and sets out to create his own T ‘n’ A spring break videos that offers up one of the most ridiculous scenes of the film as two naked women perform an overlong underwater ballet. It’s a scene that with seven other people in auditorium makes you feel creepy, but with a crowd of several it should be quite entertaining. Finally, Richard Dreyfuss offers a satisfying Jaws homage that I won’t spoil here.

As for the nudity, it is entirely gratuitous (as it should be) and, outside of serving prurient interests, only works once in terms of adding to the film as a woman is cut in half by a rogue cable. It’s one of the few times I actually laughed in the morgue of a theater I was occupying.

The blood and gore, however, is the film’s highlight. There are several deaths that will bring roars from the right audiences and the all out carnage of the film’s centerpiece is something I can’t think of a recent horror film that matches it. Aja definitely knows what the audience has come for and he delivers both the gross out moments and the more comedic such as those offered by O’Connell late in the film as he mumbles, “Wet t-shirt.’

Essentially, if you’re interested, grab some friends together and go see this film. Don’t go it alone, and unless you’re going with one of your rowdier and fun, movie-going friends don’t bother. This is a film to experience, not just watch. My experience was lackluster and I imagine had I been with a couple friends or even a casual acquaintance it would have been more enjoyable.

GRADE: C+