Piranha 3D

“The good die young” is an old saying that’s been used in everything from greeting cards to Billy Joel songs. Often, it seems to be painfully true as decent people with many good years ahead of them are struck down by accidents, violence and illness. In this weeks’ movie, “Piranha 3D,” what appears to be hundreds of young people are slaughtered by rampaging prehistoric fish. Considering their displayed level of alcohol consumption, lack of self respect and disregard for their own safety, I think the gene pool might be better off without them and the phrase that started this paragraph doesn’t apply to this group of young.

Quiet, peaceful, picturesque Lake Victoria is about to be rocked by the annual migration of spring breakers looking for sun, skin, beer and sin. Just before they arrive, an earthquake causes a fissure to open between the lake and an underground cavern, sealed off for millions of years. The water in the cavern is filled with an ancient variety of piranha that was thought to have gone extinct over two million years ago. Now, the hungry fish have access to Lake Victoria and all the plump, tasty, well-marinated spring breakers. Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) is responsible for keeping the peace at Lake Victoria, along with deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) and the rest of her staff. Sheriff Forester’s 17-year old son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) is supposed to be babysitting his younger brother and sister; but when he’s offered a chance to be a local guide for sleazy Internet filmmaker (think Girls Gone Wild) Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell), Jake jumps at the chance to mix it up with the partying spring break crowd and put some money in his pocket. Along with all the partiers, Sheriff Forester must also deal with researchers from the US Geological Survey as they investigate the damage caused by the earthquake at the bottom of the lake. Taking a team led by Novak Radzinsky (Adam Scott) out on the lake, two of the teams’ divers are attacked and killed by piranha. One of the fish is still chomping at a divers’ corpse when it is brought back onto the boat. The fish is taken to the pet shop of Mr. Goodman (Christopher Lloyd) who recognizes the animal as something that should have been extinct long ago and suggests the lake be closed until all the piranha are captured or killed. Unfortunately, many of the party animals will die at the teeth of the prehistoric animals.

Some movies are good because they are bad. The blaxplotation movies of the 1970’s weren’t great pieces of cinema. They were, however, raw and spoke in a voice that wasn’t heard much in movie theatres across the country. Their unique perspective, and some amazing acting, made them great. Some of the suspense and thriller pictures from around the same time are classics not because of their production values, but because of their willingness to take chances and shock the audience with something they had never seen before. “Piranha 3D” is made in the mold of these kinds of movies. The difference is, this film has a bigger budget and it probably won’t ever be considered a trashy classic.

“Piranha 3D” looks cheap which is probably done on purpose. It has a slapped-together, made-up-as-we-go feel that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. The effects frequently cross that line and usually it’s the fish that suffer. The piranhas, which are mostly computer generated, appear to be jet powered when they swim in some scenes; going from motionless to flying through the water without even a flick of their tail. The interaction of piranha swarm and unfortunate swimmer is so fast that the audience cannot see what damage the fish are doing. The billowing clouds of fake blood filling the screen also hide the finned thespians handy (or toothy) work. The opening scene where a whirlpool spins to life after the earthquake looks about as realistic as actor Tony Curtis’ toupee (Google it). Where most of the special effects money appears to have been spent is in the damage done after the piranha attack. The gaping wounds, the limbs gnawed down to the bone, the people who are chewed in two by the hungry uber-guppies, for the most part, look amazing. Some of this gore is even played for laughs, like where a girl being carried out of the water following an attack splits in half. For fans who enjoy the technical side of monster/horror films, “Piranha 3D” will be near the top of their list.

Another aspect of the film that makes it something of a throwback flick is the nudity. There are a lot of topless women shown in “Piranha 3D.” Given its Lake-Havasu-like location and spring break timing, the nudity should be expected; however, many mainstream films have shied away from showing an abundance of topless women for much of the last 20 years. Perhaps it’s the pressure from women’s groups or the reluctance of actresses to bare their breasts on camera that has reduced the level of female nudity in movies. Whatever the reason, that trend is reversed in “Piranha 3D,” giving the movie a breast count similar to films from the 1970’s and 1980’s. It also adds to the cheapness since the nudity is supposed to divert your attention from the film’s weaknesses. After a while, the overwhelming numbers of exposed (and mostly enhanced) breasts loses its narcotic effect and you hardly notice them and realize just how bad most of the acting in the film is.

And the acting in “Piranha 3D” is pretty bad. The only person who comes off looking pretty good is Jerry O’Connell who plays his sleazy pornographer to the coked-out max. But this bit of good acting becomes tiresome as he devolves into a cliché. Most of the acting is limited to screaming, cursing loudly and looking scared. Even the great Richard Dreyfuss, who has a brief scene at the films’ beginning, has so little to work with from the script that his role is mostly limited to grunting and falling out of a boat.

“Piranha 3D” is rated R for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use. The gore and nudity has been discussed above. There is a lesbian love scene that’s entirely underwater and with very little actual contact between the participants. There is one scene of cocaine use by two characters. Foul language makes up most of the dialog.

While “Piranha 3D” is campy, trashy, cheap and proud of it, the movie also comes up short in some basic aspects. It’s even a bit dull in spots which is always a bad thing for a horror/thriller. The film is probably best viewed with a group of friends so the experience can be shared and laughed about as its happening. Your enjoyment with the group will be greater than your enjoyment of the film itself.

“Piranha 3D” gets three guitars out of five.

Demons and cons are the subjects of this week’s new movies. Vote for the film I should see and review next.

The Last Exorcism—A fraudulent exorcist finds his faith truly tested when an encounter with a possessed teenager brings him face to face with the devil.

Takers—A notorious group of bank robbers find their plans for one last score thwarted by a hardened detective hell-bent on solving the case.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently playing the theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

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