Thursday, June 23, 2011

Piranha: remembrance of things past



I didn't get to see Alexandra Aja's 2010 "Piranha 3D" in the theater, so I fully intended to make this a diatribe against the pointless and overabundant use of 3D technology over the past few years.

While my mind hasn't changed about 3D, I've decided "Piranha" could be the exception that proves the rule.


The Warning Signs rule of 3D is that, ideally, it should serve the story. Lacking that, it should at least enhance the experience. This rule applies to ALL gimmicks. When William Castle hooked buzzers to the bottom of theater seats, he enhanced the experience of seeing "The Tingler." If a filmmaker chooses 3D, objective should be in mind.

Aja's use of 3D accomplishes both goals on various levels. The technology serves the story when used to give the audience the killer fish POV. It enhances the experience, particularly for men who enjoy big fake bouncy breasts, during the nude underwater girl swim.

And, well, the opening scene with Richard Dreyfuss parodying his role in "Jaws," looks amazing.

My problem with 3D is that all too often it's been used solely to sell tickets. Few of the recent 3D films benefit from the technology. And I wear glasses, so putting on the 3D specs does not enhance my experience at all.

But enough bitching. I will even skip the usual derision for remakes and how this is Aja's third ("The Hills Have Eyes," "Mirrors") remake. Let's get right to the movie.

"Pirahna," whether in 3D or 2D, is what we think every 1980s movie was. (The Joe Dante original came out in 1978.) There are a lot of exposed breasts. A LOT of exposed breasts. The film takes place during that most manufactured of holidays, Spring Break. Jerry O'Connell "doesn't" play "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis and he nails the egomaniac perfectly.

Elisabeth Shue (remember her from 1995? Or 1985?) She's a bad ass, even compared to Ving Rhames, playing her partner. One of my favorite moments in the movie is Shue screaming at the spring breakers to get out of the lake at the instant the killer fish pull a massive attack. One kid screams, "shark!" during the attack.

There is also a lot of blood. One report I read said the effects artists used 75,000 gallons of fake blood every day for the shoot. Part of me wants to believe that. True or not, they turn the pristine blue lake into the Red Sea.

The mass attack scene is long, almost D-Day in "Saving Private Ryan" long. Many people die horrible deaths, including Eli Roth getting his head crushed between two boats and one woman who get sher hair tangled in an engine rotor.

One kill was made for 3D. A "Wild Wild Girl" gets eaten and, with O'Connell watching, one very toothy fish forces its way out of her mouth. He gets his comeuppance shortly thereafter.

That's the beauty of this otherwise unredeeming gorefest. Every character you hate gets eaten. There's no holding back. Stupid, but otherwise innocent, college kids are slaughtered by the school of sharp-toothed creatures. The one guy we like who gets taken down is Rhames. His character isn't particularly well-developed, but we know he's one of the good guys.

Of course, Rhames is listed in the cast of the sequel "Piranha 3DD" set for release Nov. 23, 2011. (For a minute, can we pretend I didn't have to type that title? Thanks.)

Personally, I'm excited for the sequel. John Gulager was at the helm. I have no shame in telling you how much I enjoyed his "Feast" trilogy. He hired the same writers from that set and even cast his dad Clu. According to the cast list, David Hasselhoff is in the movie, too. Perhaps he will play a similar role to that played by Dreyfuss. In others words, parodying a previous role (lifeguard) that gets eaten before the opening credits.

Please, Mr. Gulager, tell me this happens.

"Piranha 3D" is a fun throwback creature film. It's not one I would recommend you let the children watch. There are plenty of other movies for that.

Threat level: YELLOW. It's not the worst movie you'll ever see, but it's certainly not the best. (For an explanation of Warning Signs ratings, visit the Warning System page.)

"Piranha 3D" is rated R. Directed by Alexandra Aja, written by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg. Stars Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O'Connell and Steven R. McQueen.

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