Directed by: Alexandre Aja (Mirrors)
Starring: Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O'Connell, Steven R. McQueen, Adam Scott, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames
I wanted to like Piranha 3D—and since flesh-munching fish and 3-D are gimmicks about on par with one another, I more or less expected to. Also, I’d liked Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors (2008) well enough that I was willing to forget about his The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and High Tension (2003). I perhaps should have noted that several of the glowing reviews Piranha 3D has garnered were written by folks who waxed enthusiastic over The Hills Have Eyes.
My basic reaction? Mostly, I was bored. The film boasts an OK opening where a cameo-appearance Richard Dreyfuss is eaten by the titular creatures while fishing—right after a fissure at the bottom of the lake opens up and the hungry critters flood in. He’s rather lucky in that he gets out of the movie even before the opening credits have appeared. Of course, he’s merely the appetizer. The fish have apparently heard that this is the weekend when teens party like movie teens on the lake. Then the film takes an eternity to set up the plot. Why a plot? I mean this is a movie about fish that eat people. It’s not in need of much of a plot.
A lot of the setup is devoted to the 3-D-ification of generally artificially augmented breasts (I guess this comes under the heading of “titillation”). I suppose this might have a strong appeal to 14-year-old boys (even though the rating should be preventing them from seeing this movie in theaters). Your own preferences may vary, but I got tired of the movie threatening to put my eye out in this manner. Yes, I know that gratuitous nudity is a staple of exploitation schlock, but after a while it’s just so much flesh—and strangely immobile flesh at that.
Once the carnage starts in earnest, the movie improves, though it still feels compelled to slow down for some underwater sapphic high jinks between Kelly Brook and Riley Steele (star of specialized work like Riley Steele: Bar Pussy). Of course, the pair meets their end before it’s over, because being naked in this movie is like wearing a red suit in a Star Trek episode. The carnage itself is OK. It certainly doesn’t lack blood and slabs of ripped flesh. But so what? Even if the movie does use more fake blood than Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992), it boasts less than a fraction of that film’s wit. This movie’s idea of wit is having a piranha bite off Jerry O’Connell’s penis (perhaps it wanted to free willy), then have said penis float toward us in 3-D whereupon another piranha scarfs it down, only to cough up a mangled version of it. (This last sent the only paying customer in the theater out the door. He did not return.)
Piranha 3D is also on the clunky side and uses “movie time” with wild abandon (you know where things take far longer than they possibly could in real life), especially as concerns the imperiled “good girl” (Jessica Szohr) while in a sinking boat with piranhas nipping at her toes. Like most movies seeking instant cult-film status, something is missing—authentic exploitation madness maybe. I don’t care if you’ve wanted to see Jerry O’Connell eaten alive ever since you accidentally saw Kangaroo Jack back in 2003, that’s probably not enough reason to see this. Then again, if all you’re after are “babes, boobs and blood”—not to mention the world’s first 3-D puke shot—this is your movie. Rated R for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use.