Before we get into this review, I have some questions for you. First, do you like nudity? I mean, in your face, eye-popping, Playboy playmate level nudity. Right, moving on. Do you like gore? I'm talking about outrageous, vicious, unexpected gore. Do you like Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Shue, and Richard Dreyfuss? Do you love a hilarious, massive, over the top spectacle? And if you could have all of these things, would you want it in 3D? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you owe it to yourself to see Piranha 3D.
Piranha 3D steals its plot from Jaws: A lakeside town dependent on tourism gears up for a busy but fruitful Spring Break. Out of towners are already there en masse, causing trouble for the local sheriff, Julie (Elisabeth Shue). Her son, Jake (Steven R. McQueen, seriously, Steve McQueen), slaves away babysitting his younger siblings, when all he really wants is to be out at the lake, especially with his crush Kelly (Jessica Szohr). Things seem to change for the better when he meets Danni (Kelly Brook) and Derrick (Jerry O'Connell), who are in town to shoot a Girls Gone Wild-style video. They hire him to take them to all the best spots around the lake. However, an earthquake under the lake has released an unthinkable amount of prehistoric piranha into the lake, and now they're looking at a feast of unimaginable proportions.
Piranha is a remake of the 1978 Joe Dante directed, Roger Corman produced film. It was originally intended as a cash-in on Jaws, but gained notoriety of its own both for Dante's smart direction and a notable scene where the titular fish attack a group of school children. Piranha 3D is less of a remake and more of an homage to that slice of 70's schlock. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the picture succeeds wildly. It's silly and crazy and wears its low-budget on its sleeve, and it works far better than it should.
The film's director, Alexandre Aja, has made a career out of high profile horror remakes (previous credits include The Hills Have Eyes and High Tension), so he's an old hat at this sort of stuff by now. But where his other films tried to go for genuine scares, here Aja smartly goes the other direction and plays it for comedy. Both the director and his actors went in knowing how silly of a movie they were making, and so all of the criticisms one might level at it: The clunky exposition, the wildly varying levels of acting, the poor CGI or the even worse post-conversion 3D, none of it matters. The movie takes all of these weaknesses and turns them into strengths. In doing so, it feels like a true update of the 70's independent spirit, without slavishly recreating moments from other films.
Piranha 3D succeeds for its excess. Aja knows that nudity + gore = win, and he doesn't skimp on either. He gets the biggest, most impressive breasts he can find and he puts them front and center for the first half of the film. There's some magical about 3D nudity. It's the most base, crass, bottom of the barrel use for 3D, but it's also unbelievably awesome. My Bloody Valentine teased us with a singe nude scene, but let's face it, the actress in it wasn't too good looking, and the director seemed to shy away from really taking advantage of the combination. Aja has none of these problems. With actresses like Kelly Brook, Gianna Michaels, and Riley Steele, he's got ample assets to work with, and he doesn't let them go to waste. In particular is an underwater duet that anyone who likes women will not be able to forget.
And then there's the other half of the equation: the gore. Aja picked up master effects artists Howard Berger and Gregory Nicotero to join him in this mayhem, and they are not wasted. The film teases us with a cold open featuring Richard Dreyfuss (drinking Amity Beer no less) that hints at the buffet of gore to come. And boy, does it ever come. The film's centerpiece, a feeding frenzy among hundreds of horny and drunk teens, is a symphony of destruction the likes of which I haven't seen since Ichi The Killer or possibly even Dead-Alive. Honestly, I am flat out shocked at what Aja gets away with here. I don't want to spoil the surprises, because they are very much worth experiencing in the theater, but suffice it to say that you will not believe your eyes.
Is the film perfect? Absolutely not. I mentioned a laundry list of problems, including wildly uneven acting, over-reliance on poor CGI, and cheesy post-production 3D. But you know what? All of these elements perfectly play into the film's style, and Aja makes lemonade out of all of these lemons. How many times have movies like this popped up, promising an authentic exploitation movie experience, only to come up short, wasting the audience's time and the time of everyone who worked on it? Aja doesn't pull that kind of bait and switch, turning Piranha 3D into a true modern masterpiece of schlock cinema.