“This Summer 3D Shows Its Teeth”
Director: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell, Richard Dreyfuss
Synopsis: After a sudden underwater tremor sets free scores of the prehistoric man-eating fish, an unlikely group of strangers must band together to stop themselves from becoming fish food for the area’s new razor-toothed residents.
The similarities between Piranha 3D and Jaws (1975) are acknowledged not only in the closeness of the storylines — police chief delays a decision to close a popular resort for commercial reasons with deadly results — and the marketing material, but also in the opening scenes in which we see a grizzled Richard Dreyfuss fishing on the calm waters of Lake Victoria. Dreyfuss, of course, was one of the stars of Jaws, and the music playing on the radio moments before an earth tremor releases the flesh-eating piranhas that will shortly be feasting on him is ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’ which he and his co-stars drunkenly sang in the older movie. You’ve got to admire Piranha 3D’s nerve in this respect, and its front is in tune with the light tone of the horror. Piranha isn’t a movie designed to scare you, its intention is to make you squint at the screen with a disgusted smile on your face — which is something it achieves with ease.
Lake Victoria is a favourite haunt of Spring Breakers. For those Brits unfamiliar with this quaintly American tradition, Spring Break involves good looking American teens congregating near water to get outrageously pissed and high and partake in condition-free sex. Ok, well that’s not an exclusively American tradition, but no other nation makes such a ritual of it. Just as the hordes are about to descend on the town, police chief Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) and Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) discover the body of Matthew Boyd (Dreyfuss) stripped of his flesh. His body is floating in the lake, and Forester briefly considers shutting down the resort until Fallon reminds her of the effect it will have on the town so, perhaps against her better judgment, she decides to do nothing, but takes the precaution of warning her teenage son, Jake (Steven R. McQueen) to stay away from the lake for the next few days and also to prevent his two younger siblings from venturing near the water.
Jake is due to be baby-sitting his little sister and brother the following day, but has been offered a job as location scout by porn movie-maker Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell). Like any red-blooded youth, Jake is more than keen to accompany Jones and his crew aboard Derrick’s yacht, especially as Danni (Kelly Brooks), one of Jones’ boobielicious starlets has shown her interest in him, so he bribes his siblings to look after themselves for the day. Shortly before setting sail, he runs into Kelly (Jessica Szohr), the girl on whom he has long had a crush and, much to Jake’s discomfort, Jones invites her to join them.
Meanwhile, Jake’s mum has been tasked with accompanying a group of seismologists to investigate the site of the tremors, and witnesses two of their number becoming food for the fishes. They pull one half-chewed body on board their boat which still has a piranha attached to it and, after managing to capture it, they take it to pet shop owner Mr Goodman (Christopher Lloyd) who identifies it as a long-extinct species with a violent and voracious appetite. Forester immediately reverses her decision not to close the lake, but by now the revelry is in full flow and police warnings to evacuate the lake are ignored. Meanwhile, Jake’s younger siblings break their promise to him to stay away from the water and strand themselves on a tiny island while Jake and the film crew manage to entangle their rotors in thick seaweed, effectively disabling their boat and leaving them as sitting ducks for the fish, which seem to have a never-ending appetite.
Piranha 3D sold itself on boobs and blood, and it delivers both in plentiful quantity. The stars are either past their prime — Shue, Dreyfuss, Rhames, Lloyd, O’Connell — or possessors of perfect bodies and modest acting talents. The veterans perform their duties with dutiful professionalism while the youngsters disrobe whenever they can, it seems like. Not that I’m complaining of course — I could quite happily spend all day watching a naked Kelly Brook and Riley Steele perform an ethereal ballet underwater to the melodic warblings of Delibe’s Flower Duet, and sometimes it’s cool to just kick back and switch off your brain when you start watching a movie. Piranha 3D makes no demands on its audience and uses its 3D canvas to propel any number of unique and unexpected objects at our faces. In addition to the bountiful breasts we’re treated to an ejection of 3D vomit, a severed penis and numerous other body parts as director Alexandre Aja goes all out to elicit as many good-natured groans from his audience as he can. He also delivers a terrific mass attack set piece in a second half which possesses a truly blistering pace that doesn’t let up for a second until, bizarrely, the concluding race-against-time scenario which is so clumsily handled that it leaves you wishing they’d just get on with it. I honestly can’t recall a finale in any other decent movie that is so badly handled as the one here.