5. Piranha 3-D
I had low expectations for “Piranha 3D.” The trend was ongoing when it was greenlit, but the horror remake fad is now winding down. I’m already sick of the new 3D. I figured the awful trailer was final evidence that Aja had left behind his European style and was strictly functioning as a director for hire.
Sometimes, low expectations are good. “Piranha 3D” is a blast, a campy, over-the-top throwback to exploitation cheese of the eighties. Right from the beginning, it’s obvious this was made by fans. The movie opens with Richard Dreyfus playing a character named Matt who sings “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” This is the first of many good signs.
The movie has two selling points: Blood and breasts. It doesn’t skimp on either. This might be the goriest horror film I’ve ever seen in the theater. The vicious piranhas tear their victims to literal pieces. Flesh is chewed down to the bone, limbs are eaten off, and the water quickly becomes red with blood. The highlight of the film is when the piranha menace hits the Spring Break partiers. Literally hundreds of victims step out of the water, their skin gnawed away, while others are left below to become fish food. Boat related carnage actually provides the gore highlights. A girl has her face torn off by a propeller. Another is literally bisected by a whipping wire. Eli Roth, the Paris Hilton of horror directors, has his head crushed in what might be the most satisfying horror movie death in years.
And what about the T&A? The first shot of gorgeous, top heavy model Kelly Brook is of her wiggling backside. I’m not made of stone, people. Puerile as it might be, the movie has no shame in showing off its actresses assets and, I’ll admit, it added to my enjoyment. Miss Brook and porn star Riley Steele have a fully nude, underwater ballet. The movie stops for about five minutes just to ogle these women. It somehow doesn’t come off as exploitative, but rather goofy, fun, and genuinely erotic. (That the characters hold their breath for ten minutes might be a good indicator of the cheese factor at work here.) In the scene most indicative of the movie’s mentality, a topless parasailor, played by 34DD-cupped porn starlet Gianna Michaels, first thrust her jugs into the camera and then has her legs eaten off by killer fish. 3D tits, covered in blood. You can’t argue with that.
Most amazingly though, despite being a gore and boobs delivery system, this is the first time in a while were I actually cared wither the characters in a horror movie made it out alive or not. Steven R. McQueen plays Jake. He is clearly crushed on Kelli, played the capable and cute Jessica Szohr, but never comes off as too whiny. The romantic tension between the two proves to legitimately sweet. Moreover, at the end, Jake proves himself to be a capable and resourceful hero, and pulls off the kind of “Smart teen saves the day” style scheme that was a hallmark of 1950 creature features. Adam Scott is similarly smart and badass, especially when he jumps on a water ski and goes after the piranha with a shotgun. Elisabeth Shue provides us with a strong female authority figure, a rare sight in a horror movie, and it’s a great performance. She plays both a mother and a cop with equal strength. Christopher Lloyd has a great cameo as the resident fish expert. Ving Rhames kicks a lot of ass, especially when he picks up a boat propeller and faces the aquatic threat one-on-one. Jerry O’Connell gets maybe the meatiest role as the Joe Francis stand-in. O’Connell has made a career of playing obnoxious douchebag, so much that I’m not convinced it’s an act. His eventual, 3D prolonged, incredibly painful death gives the movie its most over-the-top, gruesomely funny moment.
Aja direction is not as fierce as in his previous film but this suits the movie’s wacky tone. He does, however, get one great moment when he copies the reserve dolly shot of “Jaws,” a moment that caused me to cheer it was so cool. The piranhas themselves are vicious little fuckers, and brilliantly brought to life. The movie mixes CGI and practical effects extremely well. And did I notice a reprise of Pino Donaggio’s beautiful score from the original film at one point? “Piranha 3D” sets out to be the guilty pleasure of the summer and, goddamn, does it ever succeed. There will probably be competitors later on, but for the moment, this is the best, most entertaining horror film of the year. [Grade: A-]