Whatever else you want to say about it, Piranha 3D is a movie that keeps its promises. The trailers, the commercials, and all the pre-press promised that Piranha 3D would lean heavy on its R rating. Its makers and its promoting swore up and down that we’d see more gore and more nudity than we’ve seen on a movie screen in recent memory, and that’s for damn sure what we got. For plenty of people, that’s enough, and to those people I say, see this movie multiple times and encourage the making of more like it, because while I’m a guy who’s usually looking for a little more than simply sex & violence in a movie (I like that stuff as much as anyone but I need good characters too), I’m glad whenever a boundary-pusher makes its way through to multiplexes.
I love the fact that I don’t have to spend the usual amount of time setting up the plot of Piranha 3D. The high concept is this: a swarm of prehistoric piranha are set loose by a subterranean earthquake during Spring Break season at a Lake Havasu (AZ) type of vacation situation. The fish are hungry. And that’s pretty much all that happens. There are a ton of recognizable and lovable B-listers (with more than due respect) in the large cast, including the darling Elisabeth Shue and the great Ving Rhames as the town sheriff and deputy, the hard-working (if straining a little too much) Jerry O’Connell as an amateur filmmaker of the Girls Gone Wild variety, and the underrated (but increasingly less so) Adam Scott as a seismologist who comes for the earthquake and stays for the killer fish.
There are others. There’s Richard Dreyfuss in a brief cameo as the most blatant Jaws referece of all time. There’s Christopher Lloyd in an expository mad-scientist cameo that – I shit you not – blew up the theater I was in. People went APESHIT when Christopher Lloyd showed up, overacting at a level that is like all three Back To The Futures combined into one histrionic supernova. I love Christopher Lloyd, but I had no idea that the love was so widespread. But best of all, honestly, is British pin-up Kelly Brook as one of the models who shows up at the lake to help document the debauchery.
What Kelly Brook does in this movie is nothing less than an act of great humanitarianism. She takes part in an underwater girl-on-girl ballet that will live forever in infamy, or at least on the internet. I wonder if Piranha 3D under-earned at the box office because its target audience is waiting to get it home. I don’t mean to be a creep, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of writing about Piranha 3D, it’d be dishonest not to write about how astounding Kelly Brook looks. Also, I could swear that she gives a sweet, ingratiating, good-humored performance given the fact that she’s playing a frequently-undressed pornstar, but I’d have to take another look at the movie to be sure.
Anyway, once the multiple characters are introduced and the piranha start unleashing hell, Piranha 3D sets what just have to be new levels of carnage. This movie would make Sam Peckinpah blush. The violence in this movie makes Stallone’s Expendables look quaint. Even that most prominent of torture-porn aficionados, Mel Gibson, would cover his eyes during a couple moments of this movie. In a weird way, Piranha 3D is pretty realistic. If a swarm of piranha got to work on a lake full of half-naked people, they wouldn’t exactly be discreet or discerning about it. They would start biting at anything and everything. And yes, that is a warning to the squeamish (and the sane) that if you go to see Piranha 3D, you will see a piranha eat a dick. I’m sorry if I’m revealing anything, but it’s my belief that people should be warned. I’ll leave it there, because I can definitely make any number of jokes about dick-eating piranha, but I recognize that not everyone would be entertained by that. I try to be considerate when I can.
The point is that Piranha 3D is exceedingly gory, though it approaches that gore with the darkest kind of humor. I get it, and I did laugh at pretty much all of the places where the movie means to make a person laugh, but ultimately, the movie was more of an amusement park ride, an enjoyable experience (relatively speaking) that you won’t want or need to experience more than once. In that way, it’s somewhat disappointing. A movie that makes such obvious references to Jaws should probably understand that all the gore stunts in the world won’t make a movie memorable if it doesn’t have the characters to back it up. This movie features talented ringers like Elisabeth Shue and Ving Rhames in prominent roles but keeps them offscreen for extended stretches of the “story.” (This prompted a lengthy conversation with a friend about why Elisabeth Shue isn’t a bigger movie star, when she’s as talented and pretty as any of them. Life isn’t fair.)
Instead, the bulk of the “character” moments in Piranha are monopolized by Shue’s character’s teenaged son, who has a huge crush on a girl who falls in with both a band of bullies and O’Connell’s girl-exploiting video safari. The kid leaves behind his much younger brother and sister (who inevitably get in life-threatening trouble) to follow the girl. Here’s the thing: I don’t care. Not me personally, but the general “I” – all the gorehounds and booby-chasers who paid for or snuck in to Piranha 3D. It’s a fair assumption to make that the kind of person who is interested in this movie for what it is probably doesn’t want to see little kids running around. They don’t want to sit through the Dawson’s Creek shit either. That’s not what got butts in seats.
If I’d been hired to do a script revision, here’s what I’d have done: Take the Kelly Brook character, who’s already been portrayed as the stripper with a heart of gold, and bring her front and center. Get those little kids in the background, or better yet, write them out entirely. What are little kids doing in a Spring Break movie? It’s not a bad thing to give the people what they want. More Kelly Brook, less who-gives-a-crap. I’m not just saying this because she speeds up heartbeats – it’d be the more original choice. We’ve already seen the movie where the sheriff or the parent has to save a bunch of endangered kids, many times over (in Jaws 2, for example.) What we haven’t seen yet is the movie about the centerfold who has to get serious and start wrecking killer fish. It seems so obvious that I can’t fully bring myself to believe that it hasn’t been done already, but for some reason clichéd plots persist, even in a movie as wild and anarchic as this one.
Still, I have to applaud a movie that sticks to the realism of a situation where a piranha swarm besieges a Spring Break (I’m still serious about that point), and I definitely respect the attempt to bring more unclothed bosoms into multiplexes (there’s nothing evil about boobs). Reportedly, a sequel is already in development. They got a lot right the first time; no reason to expect they can’t fix up the rest on Round Two.
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