Piranha 3D is a comedy-horror flick that delivers precisely what it promises on the label: bikinis, boobs, gore and killer fish. A comfortably-budgeted update of the 1978 Roger Corman film, this late-summer instance of schlock cinema is a sensorial assault which stretches out of the screen via 3-D effects to inundate audiences with enough blood and gore to make George A. Romeo’s zombie films look positively tame. In essence, the makers of Piranha 3D took the general idea of killer fish attacking members of the human populace, and joyously cranked up the carnage level as high as they could (or as high as the MPAA permitted them). The script is credited to Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg (Sorority Row), but, frankly, it would be surprising if the script was jotted down on anything other than a napkin.
The slender plot unfolds during Spring Break at the fictional Lake Victoria in the Arizona desert, where thousands of scantily clad college students are gathering for a week in the hot sun of getting drunk, getting naked and partying. Keeping all the rambunctious young party animals in line is Sheriff Julie Forester (Shue), who learns that an earthquake has opened up the bottom of the lake. Said earthquake has permitted a swarm of prehistoric piranhas the opportunity to feast on the party animals. A few additional subplots aside concerning characters you probably won’t care about, that’s all there is to Piranha 3D. Literally, the film feels like it entirely eschews a third act, as it instead ends with a cliffhanger to signal that a sequel is coming down the pipeline.
To be sure, Piranha 3D is thematically vacant and completely surface-level. Every character is a stick figure, the dialogue is bad, and the acting is cheesy, yet these elements are campy enough to let the viewers know that the filmmakers were in on the joke. For B-movie fans, there’s little that the film fails to provide. On the other hand, those who prefer more straight-faced horror will likely be irritated by the at times campy disposition. However, with that said, director Alexander Aja still found time to employ shock tactics. Thus, there are portions which seem intended to be taken seriously, but there’s still plenty of humour and winks nonetheless. Most interesting are the armada ofJaws references (for those unaware, the original 1978 Piranha owed a lot to Jaws). Underwater shots depicting the POV of the piranhas are present, while strains of John Williams’ iconic Jaws music were used, and Richard Dreyfuss makes a cameo. Dreyfuss’ role is not Matt Hooper (like in Jaws), but he is named Matt and he does sing Show Me the Way to Go Home. Sly dialogue references are present, as well.
Because the gaggle of characters are as deep as a typical Uwe Boll movie, the first half of Piranha 3D is admittedly too slow-going. Once the prehistoric piranhas begin to attack, though, the film at long last hits its stride. The remaining forty minutes or so are a no-holds-barred, action-packed parade of gore, boobs, spilled guts and severed body parts. Clearly, Aja had an absolute ball devising countless unthinkably gruesome ways for people to be eaten. Meanwhile, a bunch of the film’s best moments involve Aja relying more on tension than gore – the murky underwater shots afford the material a genuinely creepy atmosphere. However, the shock value of hot young bathers being reduced to fish food at times overshadows the campy sensibility of the enterprise, especially because veteran Howard Berger’s make-up effects are all too convincing. It would appear that Berger and the digital effects artists were not in sync, as the CGI is constantly shoddy, cheesy and cartoonish. The results are baffling, as several of the piranha attack sequences are disturbing rather than light-hearted and satisfying.
Of course, it would not be Piranha 3D without the 3-D aspect, but it would be more enjoyable and easier on the wallet. Once again, a 2010 release has been visually damaged by a shoddy 3-D conversation (though the film was always intended to be a 3-D release). As a result of the conversion, the opening credits are virtually unreadable, and there are scenes that are blurry and indistinct. At least it’s not as bad as Clash of the Titans, mind you.
A primary strength of Piranha 3D is Christopher Lloyd’s scene-stealing role as the excitable fish expert who’s called upon to explain the prehistoric piranha infestation. Lloyd threw himself into the role of a crazed professor with glee; chewing up his lines with every bit as vigour as the on-screen nasties. Echoes of Doc Brown from Back to the Future are evident as well. It’s also worth noting that the film contains a scene in which Ving Rhames kills a tonne of piranhas using a boat propeller and a shotgun. It’s pretty badass. All things considered, Piranha 3D is a generally fun, ridiculous gore-fest. It’s far from perfect and could have been tweaked in a few areas, yet it’s still a great ride.