On some occasions, writing a review of a film is somewhat difficult. How do you effectively communicate the intricacies of the plot or characters and how to you genuinely summarize the effect the film has on you so potential viewers reading your review can fully understand and know what they are getting into if they do attend? Fortunately, in the case of Piranha 3D, I had none of those problems.
After all, it is a film about an underwater quake which sets free hundreds of prehistoric man-eating fish who then proceed to attack and eat pretty much anything and everything they can sink their teeth into. Once the fish are loose and on their way to spoil Spring Break for the thousands of kids frolicking at Lake Victoria, AZ it’s up to an unlikely group led by the town’s Sheriff (Elisabeth Shue) and a visiting marine paleontologist (Adam Scott) to stop the deadly horde before it’s too late.
Having recently seen Joe Dante’s original Piranha and another classic Roger Corman gory campfest Humanoids from the Deep, I can say that Piranha 3D borrows heavily from both of those previous films and does deliver a campy, over the top and in your face good time. It’s not art, whatever you may consider that to be, but it does have one big thing going for it: It’s fun.
Piranha 3D doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is: a movie where a pack of fish attack a whole bunch of people and eat them which also features ample sexual situations and nudity. It definitely earns the R rating.
It starts out letting you know these fish are not to be messed with by presenting Richard Dreyfuss doing what can only be described as a parody of his character from Jaws (complete with his rendition of Irving King’s Show Me the Way to Go Home) innocently fishing on the lake.
While there, the aforementioned earthquake takes place and a crack opens under the lake unleashing a swarm of prehistoric Piranha to reek havoc on an unsuspecting throng of spring breakers. But first (spoiler), they make quick work of Dreyfuss and, in a few short moments, we know all we need to know about this film. These fish are badass and are going to be trouble.
Director Alexandre Aja also manages to generate many moments of actual tension during the film and puts his characters in sufficiently tenuous situations that you, at times, are genuinely worried about them. However, at other times, Aja doesn’t so much direct as he seemingly throws stuff at the camera to see what sticks. And believe me, some of those things that stick are not exactly things you want to see — especially in 3D.
While we’re on the subject, yes this film is in 3D. As I may have mentioned previously in other reviews or on The Flickcast podcast, I’m not a huge fan of the 3D resurgence. However, in some cases, it actually can enhance the viewing experience of a film, as it did with Avatar. It also comes into play well here too.
In this case, the 3D enhances the film and brings more immediacy to what’s happening, especially during some of the most tension-filled scenes. The 3D also serves to make the Piranha attack scenes even bloodier as bits and pieces swirl around and you are seemingly enveloped in the mayhem. Would these aspects of the film have been as effective in 2D? Probably. However, the filmmakers obviously made the film with 3D in mind and it does use those aspects effectively and should be seen that way.
Other technical aspects of the film are first rate, as you might expect. And yes, the Piranhas do look quite menacing, especially when viewed in close-up.
With this film, I applaud the filmmakers for trying to, and succeeding at, keeping it simple and not taking themselves too seriously. It’s a monster movie where the monsters do a lot of damage and are pretty scary, the bad people get what’s coming to them and the good people survive. Plus, along the way we get some not so subtle lessons about pollution and the environment as well as the lovely and talented Kelly Brook.
Sure, my opinion of Brook may be influenced by her obvious physical charms but she actually manages to give a decent performance in the film and does a lot with what she has to work with. Other standouts are the main teen in jeopardy played by Steven R. McQueen and, of course, Oscar-winner Elisabeth Shue who plays the Sheriff of the fictional town where the Piranhas are looking for their next meal.
Shue does quite a bit with her character and manages to deliver a decent performance in spite of what situations and campy dialog she’s forced to deliver. In addition, Scott as marine paleontologist Novak also delivers a decent performance and is responsible for some of the best comedic moments in the film.
Other fodder for the flesh eating fish are Ving Rhames (who gets at least one pretty cool scene), porn actress Riley Steele, Dina Myer, Eli Roth, Jerry O’Connell doing his best imitation of Girls Gone Wild honcho Joe Francis and Gossip Girl’s Jessica Szohr as McQueen’s characters love interest. Plus, let’s not forget the terrific Christopher Lloyd who, upon examining the deadly Piranha thoroughly, summons his best Doc Brown to tell us we’re in big trouble and also, not surprisingly, that we’re probably in for a sequel.
Piranha 3D mostly manages to capture the spirit and the humor of those earlier films. It entertains with an overabundance of blood, gore, humor, boobs and mayhem that serves the movie well. It isn’t, by any means, to be mistaken for something particularly relevant that carries much weight or delivers some kind of life-changing message. That’s not what this film is and it doesn’t apologize for it. Besides, plenty of other films around to carry that torch.
Piranha 3D is, however, a fun, campy, bloody good time. And sometimes, that’s all you need.