Theatrical Review: Piranha 3D

Pretty simply, every year, the small resort area of Lake Victoria sees it’s population rise thanks to the influx of thousands of college students wanting to party their brains out for spring break. This year is no exception, but with one addition: a small earthquake hits opening a fissure in the lake bottom, releasing thousands of prehistoric piranha on an unsuspecting spring break populace.

That’s the premise to Piranha 3D, the latest film from horror director Alexandre Aja. It’s also a remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 film Piranha, recently rereleased on DVD as part of Shout! Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics. And it’s one hell of a good time, especially if you enjoy over-the-top exploitation movies.

This movie lets you know what you’re in for right from the start with it’s opening scene. Featuring a cameo appearance by Richard Dreyfuss, playing a fisherman named Matt, singing the song, “Show Me The Way To Go Home,” this scene acknowledges the intentions of the original movie (being a Jaws rip-off) and sets you up for the wild ride that you’re about to take.

That wild ride is very bloody, very violent and filled with gratuitous nudity (it very much earns it’s R rating- this one isn’t for kids). It’s all in glorious 3D and just fun as all get out. Like the original, everyone here knows just what kind of movie they’re making and it’s all played very straight (with one notable exception), just like it should be.

Previously, Alexandre Aja made the very effective French horror film, High Tension which got him a lot of notice. From there, he headed up the remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and gave us a fun ride with that as well. After that, came the thriller Mirrors with Kiefer Sutherland, that I wasn’t quite a s enamored with.

When I first heard Piranha 3D was coming, I was looking forward to it, though at the time I hadn’t seen the original movie. Since seeing the original, and knowing that Aja was attached to it, that raised my expectations quite a bit and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

While this varies in story points from the original, structurally it runs the same course with it’s set-up, character introduction, a couple of mini-climaxes and an ending that even uses the same escape scenario. Characters are simply drawn and serviceable to what we really want to see.

It looks great and runs counter to the visuals of Aja’s other movies with tons of bright color and detail. The visual effects with the piranha is pretty obvious CGI work, and by that obviousness, very suitable to the exploitation feel of the movie.

We’ve got a good cast in this film and as I said above, they know what kind of movie they’re in and they go with it. Elizabeth Shue plays Lake Vicotria’s sheriff and it’s really cool to see here do something like this. Ving Rhames is her bad-ass deputy who has his own way of dealing with the piranha. Stephen R. McQueen plays Shue’s son, who’s the hero focus of the film, and he’s suitable to the movie, though more of the fun is being had by the bigger names. Those include the above-mentioned Richard Dreyfuss, Jerry O’Connell and Christopher Lloyd. Dreyfuss, is purely there for the set-up and I thought it was very cool that he did it. O’Connell plays a Joe Francis (Girls Gone Wild) type of character as the over-the-top Derrick Jones. Jones is in Lake Victoria to shoot his latest video, Wild Wild Girls, and right from the start, you pretty much know what’s going to happen to him in the end. Christopher Lloyd is the notable exception that I alluded to above. He plays the town expert who informs the sheriff of just what she’s dealing with. Right from the moment we see him, he’s in his full Doc Brown glory and chews more scenery than the piranha do. But y’know, I really wouldn’t have it any other way. It doesn’t deter from anything else that has happened in the movie up to that point and really just emphasizes the movie’s fun factor.

I think the 3D is just terrific here. It’s a shame that earlier in the year we had to have some movies with tacked on 3D, because they just took away from the real fun that you can have when a movie is legitimately made with 3D in mind. Like Step Up 3D, Piranha 3D uses it’s gimmick very well with not only immersive depth of the environment but with plenty of reach-out-and-touch-it moments. It works great for all of the piranha scenes and it’s really well-used with an underwater erotic scene that Derrick Jones is filming.

Piranha 3D ain’t for everyone, that’s for sure, but then that’s the case with most exploitation movies. Make no mistake, this is pure exploitation and if that’s you’re thing (it’s mine) and you’re willing to let your hair down, you should have a great time with this. As a remake, I’d put this on the same par as Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of The Dead, a movie that can stand right alongside with the original. With Robert Rodriguez’s Machete around the corner, and with Piranha 3D out now, it’s great to see that these sort of movies are still getting released, especially in the wake of Grindhouse’s failure to do big box office. Now we just need Rob Zombie to make a full length version of Werewolf Women of the S.S.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

22. August 2010 by Darren Goodhart
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