Reviews

Review: Piranha 3D

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Piranha 3D wears its heart on its sleeve and delivers exactly what it promises: boobs and gore are in plentiful supply throughout. There’s nothing more to it than that, but however slight it may be, director Alejandre Aja embraces the exploitational material without restraint or shame. There’s something to be said for that and at the very least, provided you were satisfied with what you saw in the trailer, you can be sure of a good time.

Aja’s film is ostensibly a remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 Jaws parody, which was already subject to a 1995 remake by the same director and featured a young Mila Kunis, but jettisons that film’s anti-militaristic undertones (where the killer fish were developed as part of a Vietnam war project entitled ‘Razorteeth’) and brings in enormous 3D swarms of computer-generated fish where the original’s low-budget glory could barely muster up much more than suggestively bloody water. Aja also plays down the cruelty of the original – here only vacuous teens and sleazy adults get torn to shreds, whereas children were also deemed acceptable targets first time around – and significantly amps up the fratboy ogling.

Piranha 3D wears its heart on its sleeve and delivers exactly what it promises: boobs and gore are in plentiful supply throughout. There's nothing more to it than that, but however slight it may be, director Alejandre Aja embraces the exploitational material without restraint or shame. There's something to be said for that and at the very least, provided you were satisfied with what you saw in the trailer, you can be sure of a good time.

Aja's film is ostensibly a remake of Joe Dante's 1978 Jaws parody, which was already subject to a 1995 remake by the same director and featured a young Mila Kunis, but jettisons that film's anti-militaristic undertones (where the killer fish were developed as part of a Vietnam war project entitled 'Razorteeth') and brings in enormous 3D swarms of computer-generated fish where the original's low-budget glory could barely muster up much more than suggestively bloody water. Aja also plays down the cruelty of the original – here only vacuous teens and sleazy adults get torn to shreds, whereas children were also deemed acceptable targets first time around – and significantly amps up the fratboy ogling.{{page_break}}

Despite Elizabeth Shue's sheriff operating as the most brave and dynamic of the film's adult protagonists, this is not a film to take your girlfriend to. (If she volunteers on the other hand, you may be onto a winner). The film has no bones to pick – pun not intended – with filling the screen with nubile young women for no other purpose than for them to be drooled over. The presence of a character like the loathsome softcore porn director Derrick (who is not only obviously based on but finds in actor Jerry O'Connell a dead ringer for Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis) is the filmmakers' pretence that their movie is satire and condemning of such attitudes, yet all the while relishes every available opportunity to lose a bikini top or ten. Feminists might go up in arms, but at least the film throws itself to the mercy of its leeriest instincts without cynically holding back to try and secure a more box-office friendly rating.

All this climaxes – pun definitely intended – with Kelly Brook and porn star Riley Steele performing a naked underwater ballet to the tune of Leo Delibes' operatic Flower Duet, which might be a reference to the 1983 Catherine Deneuve/David Bowie vampire film The Hunger where the same soundtrack was used for a lesbian seduction scene. It's surely no coincidence that when I saw the film in the cinema, this was the scene where the 3D worked perfectly and was free of the blurring that affected it elsewhere. Amazingly, Aja doesn't just satisfy himself with the standard T&A for this scene, but delivers the full three-course meal. Perhaps those shots were omitted to secure the R-rating from the more prudish US censors, but the UK version put everything on show, something that even most arthouse films hold back from when – supposedly – artistically justified. Anyway, as a straight male and adamant 3D cynic, I won't pretend it's not the best use of the technology I've seen so far. Ahem. In an abysmal attempt to reclaim some moral standing on the issue, I can at least honestly say that Jessica Szohr's girl-next-door Kelly is by the far the most appealing, and most dressed, of all the aged-under-thirty females the film offers up for our delectation.

Aja doesn't hold back on the gore either, although it's played so strongly for laughs that no-one living outside a monastic convent will find anything remotely shocking about it. The teenagers gathered for the lakeside Spring Break parties are dismembered and slaughtered with plenty of enthusiastic zeal, as Ving Rhames shoots fish out of the water with his pump-action shotgun. As if that large-scale carnage wasn't enough, with weeping adolescents being pulled out of the water showing only bones where their legs used to be, the film reserves its most sadistic inventive streak for the sleazy Derrick's hilariously prolonged and agonising fate. Perhaps any feminists appalled by his exploitation of women's body parts will find themselves cheering on the fish as they extract their appropriately focused vengeance.

Unlike Snakes On A Plane, which tried and failed to convey B-movie spirit while being friendly to the widest audience possible, Piranha 3D feels authentic and nails its exploitation tone. But the problem it shares with Snakes which prevents it from being anything more than an entertaining but imminently forgettable boob-and-blood-o-rama is that it is often too busy winking at the audience to make the most out of scenes where it needs to do that pesky thing of eliciting more technically difficult reactions from the audience than laughter or arousal. The film is never in the least bit tense or scary, with Aja (strangely, for a director whose career has been mostly spent working in horror genre) showing no talent for pacing or building suspense. The less-than-convincing CGI piranhas don't help: Joe Dante's original might have been made on a fraction of this film's budget, but its murky water suggestion trick to cover not being able to show the fish, apart from in a small number of key shots, ironically worked better. Without the film establishing an emotional connection on any level, you'll find plenty here to enjoy for a drunken Saturday night viewing with friends, but nothing that won't have disappeared come the haze of the morning-after hangover.

Overall Score: 6.95 – Okay(6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide)

Josh Parker: 8.25 – Great. Piranha 3D has far more in common with with the tongue-in-cheek black comedy of Snakes on a Plane than the taut suspense of Jaws, and it's better off for it. Don't go into a viewing of this flick expecting anything more than an exceptionally entertaining B-movie, because you'd be doing yourself a disservice by taking it seriously. Richard Dreyfuss parodies himself from Jaws, and that's how the movie starts. Alexandre Aja might as well have titled this remake Blood, Boobs & Boats, because that's exactly what you're going to get – gore by the truckload and topless porn starlets as far as the eye can see. And also there are boats.

Toby Jones: 7.00 – Good. Piranha 3D is far more fun than it has any right to be, especially considering the director's previous work. Despite being (ostensibly) sleaze, it has an unexpected satirical bent and is really a whole lot better than 90% of major studio releases. Unfortunately, its attempts at black humor may occasionally go too far: at one point is it all right to take plasure in hundreds of people being tore to shreds, and at what point does it begin to feel a bit mean spirited? The film draws a very clear (and flawed) moral line: it's fun when spring breakers or porn stars die, but the lives of two bratty kids must be protected at all costs. These children are unbearable jerks with no redeeming qualities, and we have to watch far more sympathetic characters die to keep them alive. I understand that "save the children" is the oldest plot contrivance in the book, but Aja could have at least made them worth saving. On the upside, the film has a legitimately gorgeous naked underwater ballet scene. And Christopher Lloyd.