Thursday, September 02, 2010

Piranha 3D / *** (R)

Image courtesy of Dimension Films

Julie Forester: Elizabeth Shue
Jake Forester: Steven R. McQueen
Novak: Adam Scott
Kelly: Jessica Szohr
Derrick Jones: Jerry O’Connell
Danni: Kelly Brook
Deputy Fallon: Ving Rhames
Mr. Goodman: Christopher Lloyd
Matt Boyd: Richard Dreyfuss

Dimension Films presents a film directed by Alexandre Aja.  Written by Pete Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg. Running time: 89 min. Rated R (for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use).

If anything, “Piranha 3D” proves that there is no expiration date on any film franchise.

35 years ago, Steven Spielberg scared millions of Americans out of the water with the release of “Jaws” and created the modern summer blockbuster in the process. Never to be outdone by filmmakers with more money and talent, Roger Corman took the “Jaws” formula and applied it to his exploitational B-style filmmaking and created the “Piranha” franchise, which saw fresh water lakes terrorized by schools of flesh eating piranha fish. These movies were meant as a spoof of the “Jaws” formula, and over thirty years later, “Jaws” is a cinematic classic while “Piranha 3D” finally ads a third installment meant to take advantage of the new 3D trend.

The connection to “Jaws” is still very apparent in the “Piranha” series as the new film opens with one of the stars of “Jaws”, Richard Dreyfuss, fishing in an Arizona desert lake when an underground earthquake opens an underwater cave where prehistoric piranha have been waiting for centuries to whet their appetite with a new palate of dining delicacy—partying spring breakers. Dreyfuss sings a song that fans of “Jaws” may recognize. What happens next is something you probably never thought you’d see happen to Richard Dreyfuss in three dimensions.

Elizabeth Shue (“Leaving Las Vegas”) plays the sheriff of Lake Victoria, a small town on the verge of its busiest week of the year as it population booms from 5,000 to 50,000 for spring break. She’s a single mom with three kids, and she depends heavily on he oldest, Jake (Steven R. McQueen, “The Vampire Diaries”), to watch the younger ones during this busy week. Jake wants to be partying with his own, however.

Through a series of events, Jake ends up on a boat with an entrepreneur (Jerry O’Connell, “Kangaroo Jack”), who makes his money “Girls Gone Wild” style. So, Jake’s out on the lake without his mother’s knowledge. His siblings go out on the lake, since he’s not watching them. All the while, his mom is off with a scientist (Adam Scott, “Step Brothers”) discovering the horror that is about to befall the lake and her family.

It’s not hard to see where all this is heading once the deadly fish are discovered. But then this isn’t a movie about mystery. It’s a movie about anticipation. Director Alexandre Aja (“Mirrors”) has more fun than a horror director should be allowed playing with the audience’s anticipation in this one. Take for example a scene where he shows us a topless parasailer dipping in and out of the water. Now, we all know that eventually she’ll lift out of the water missing her legs, but Aja plays with us, like playing with a cat using a ball of string. Is this the time she comes up half eaten? What will it look like when they get her?

Aja, in his typical fashion, has quite an imagination when it comes to just what damage can be inflicted on the human body by a school of prehistoric fish, or an outboard motor for that matter. The gore on display here is not for the faint of heart. There are so many mutilated body parts in this movie that I imagine more than one model shop had to be used just to assemble them. The evisceration involved in this movie could easily feed hundreds of creature shop employees for the next couple of years. I’m talking about the money paid for services, not cannibalism.

Aja also displays a great devotion to the look and feel of early eighties Hollywood cinema. He employs Christopher Lloyd as the local fish expert, who must explain how the monsters work to the laymen, not unlike Doc Brown in “Back to the Future”. There is a freedom with female nudity that hasn’t been employed so liberally since that fine decade of cinema. And his use of the 3D format also recalls the early eighties attempt to repopularize the format. He sometimes combines his 3D trickery with his obsession with naked women. This makes for some strange and unique moments in 3D cinema that are really just perfect for this type of B-movie mentality.

One reason that they refer to movies as belonging to a B grade is because those movies will never be accused of being great cinema, but as summer popcorn fare goes, they can be a lot of fun. “Piranha 3D” is a lot of fun, if you can stomach it. It certainly won’t appeal to everyone. But anyone who likes a lot of gore and has nostalgic feelings for that bygone era when it was OK to show naked people on screen, and as long if you’re fine with the notion of combining those two details… well, you’ll just love this movie. Others might get a kick out of it too.

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