Fish and Tits
Fish and Tits
Since I’m part of the teenage generation of today, but on the older side of the decade, I get to hear a lot of varying responses to different kinds of movies. For action, some movies will look really good, some will seem like dumb fun, and others will just look bad. It’s the same thing for dramas and comedies, some of my friends will be impressed and some will not, and maybe a few will be in the middle. Horror movies, on the other hand, are much more black and white in terms of reactions. They’re either scary or they’re not. If a horror movie isn’t completely scary all the way through, it’s immediately bad, even if there were some scenes that worked or the movie had other commendable qualities. And while they frequently are bad in situations when they don’t turn out scary, it seems like a lot of people I know don’t understand that sometimes horror can just be summed up in two words: pure fun. Are 50s monster movies scary? Not at all really, but they can be highly enjoyable in their own right. Was Freddy Vs. Jason scary? Not in the slightest, although I walked away from it with a big, satisfied smile on my face. Why can’t more people have a sense of humor when it comes to horror on occasion?
Plot Synopsis: It’s the story (if you can call it that) of a boy named Jake who was told to babysit his younger siblings by their sheriff mother while she is off keeping the town’s spring break party on the lake under control as hundreds of outsiders come in for the summer. Jake is lured away from home when Wild Wild Girls director Derrick offers him a chance to hang out with his girls if Jake shows them around the lake for shooting locations. As they are leaving, Derrick takes a liking to Kelly, Jake’s crush in school, and asks her to join them much to Jake’s concern. While they are separated from the rest of the festivities, an underwater earthquake causes a fissure at the bottom of the lake, allowing for a swarm of dormant, prehistoric piranhas to be unleashed on the unsuspecting characters.
With a name like Piranha 3D, what more do you expect from the premise? It’s about hundreds of killer fish, and because this is a horror movie, you can also expect a healthy amount of blood, gore, and boobs…in 3D no less! Truth to be told, the 3D was rather underwhelming, with the post-production conversion effects never really popping off the screen, with the exception of some memorably inspired moments (vomit anyone?). Aside from that, the “BGB” formula didn’t disappoint in the slightest. For the first and second acts, we are teased with some minor attacks here and there and titillated with copious amounts of hot girls willing to take their tops off in order to keep us busy. The hard partying attitude sets just the right tone for the picture: light, cheerful, and go-for-broke. The various piranha attacks are meant to give us an impression of what’s going to come at our main characters, and everyone else at this Spring Break bash, because once the shit hits the fan for a nonstop final act, it is relentless. The carnage is gleeful and appropriately over-the-top, and in the years to come this scene may be remembered as one of the goriest of the decade, while sometimes hilarious.
Director Alexandre Aja shows an ability to diversify himself after the very serious High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes (2006), both great horror movies of the scary kind. While he crafted those movies as atmospheric and arguably slow burn paced, Aja wastes no time here by starting off a bang and then filling everything else with a tongue-and-cheek vibe to carry us along until the epic conclusion within a swift 80 minutes. In case you didn’t already know, Piranha 3D is a remake of a 70s creature feature that was made in order to cash in on the great success of Jaws. So for the remake, Aja and his writers naturally wink at their audience by fashioning the plot around the same basic framework as the shark classic. Opening kill to start things off? Check. Nubile teenagers and young adults flooding into an otherwise quaint town for a season of fun? Check. Previously mentioned teenagers who ignore warnings about danger despite the sheriff’s insistence? You get the idea.
They even rope in Jaws alum Richard Dreyfus to come in and essentially reprise his character from that movie, complete with the same clothes and humming a familiar song. Everyone else in the cast is clearly not taking the material seriously either, with each person either being suitably straight-faced or wacky depending on their character. Jerry O’Connell hams up the screen to the highest level as the completely amoral and insensitive Derrick, Christopher Lloyd spouts exposition Doc Brown-style like only he can, Ving Rhames goes medieval on the fish, and Eli Roth gets a death scene worthy of his career as the director of Hostel and Cabin Fever. Of course, we also get some actors who play things straight and normal, but they do a decent job with it. Elizabeth Shue was tough and maternal as the town sheriff (echoing Chief Brody from Jaws), and Steven McQueen was likable and sympathetic as the hero, Jake. Not bad for being the grandson of one of the coolest actors there ever was. And while true-blue character development was definitely put on the backburner, everyone does a good job of creating definable personalities to latch onto.
And lets not forget the true stars of the movie…the mean prehistoric fish themselves. The piranhas are vicious and nasty, sporting a cool design and brought to life by some decent computer effects. I thought this would cheapen the effect of the little guys, but the effects work is very well done and because the piranhas move so fast, any flaws in the effects are cleverly masked. And the mix of them with the practically done gore effects is fairly seamless, especially since the red stuff is poured on with such glee. Now I’ve been laying it on thick about how much fun and entertaining this movie is, but there are flaws that hold it back. The ending in particular, while providing a great shock, does come very abruptly with many loose ends left hanging. And while I appreciated the quick pacing, sometimes it felt too quick, cutting away at some of the suspense and tension that would have made the grand payoff even more satisfying. There were also points where you just want to punch O’Connell’s character in the face and the 3D, as I said before, could have been better. But this isn’t high art, this is a movie called Piranha 3D. And in terms of plain old unadulterated entertainment, there isn’t a movie this summer that matches it.