Piranha 3D (2010)
The 3-D craze currently sweeping Hollywood is, at its worst, little more than a sorry excuse for price gouging. Beware movies, such as “Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender,” that are converted to the third dimension in post-production. They are the cinematic equivalent of those annoying, ubiquitous airline fees.
Yet, after months of dreck, a picture such as “Piranha 3D” arrives and reminds your sorry, skeptical self exactly why that extra dimension exists. Boobs, gore and gratuitous close-ups abound in Alexandre Aja’s loose remake of Roger Corman’s original “Jaws” rip-off, which more closely evokes the B-movie spirit that gave birth to stereoscopic cinema than any of its contemporaries.
Equal parts horror schlock and bass-pounding, hard-partying MTV-style mammary fest, the admirably efficient 89-minute film is set around spring-break hot spot Lake Victoria, where the population explodes tenfold for that hedonistic week in the sun. Sadly for overburdened Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), an outbreak of vicious prehistoric piranhas hits the lake at the same time, mercilessly devouring everyone and everything in their path — including, potentially, Forester’s children Jake (Steve McQueen), Laura (Brooklynn Proulx) and Zane (Sage Ryan).
Casting ranks high among Mr. Aja’s coups. The “Jaws” nods kick off early, as Richard Dreyfuss shows up — albeit briefly — as fish food. With each enthused burst of scientific babble Christopher Lloyd, as Lake Victoria’s resident piranha authority (every town needs one!), dredges up every last reservoir of Doc Brown’s energy. Jerry O’Connell, as sleazy pornographer Derrick Jones (think Joe Francis of “Girls Gone Wild”), delights in every snorted line of cocaine and fevered declaration of his love for the female figure. The actors bring texture and character to what, in lesser hands, might have been a straightforward, mundane effects fest.
But “Piranha 3D” works because of its all-around unabashed playfulness, from the filmmaker’s persistent fourth-wall shattering in the form of nasty fish and other unsavory objects hurdled toward the audience to its gleeful rendering of some creatively gruesome deaths.
The film relishes the B-movie’s lurid thrill. It’s the sort of sex-filled splatter fest that might have once been advertised with big yellow block letters and stills of beautiful women posing in tiny bikinis as a monstrous model fish loomed overhead. With cynical commercialism and the appeal of the DVD rack having all but cannibalized low-rent filmmaking, a picture that knows how to entertain from start to finish should not be taken lightly.