I went into this expecting nothing more than a fun time at the movies with friends on a Friday night. I figured it would probably be of the so-bad-it’s-good variety, a guilty pleasure at best. What I didn’t expect is an actually thrilling, well-crafted flick with a sly understanding of its nature as an exploitation film and a lot of humor, intentional at that.
Until now, my impression of Alexandre Aja was that he was a director of effective but not all that exceptional horror movies (“Haute Tension”, the “Hills Have Eyes” remake, etc.). But with this here “Piranha 3D”, he’s made a wildly entertaining picture that manages to be both a satire of lowbrow B-movies and to deliver the cheap thrills we expect from one of those.
Set during Spring Break in the small town of Lake Victoria, Arizona, where the week of drunken debauchery of thousands of college kids is disturbed by the appearance of swarms of prehistoric piranhas in the waters, “Piranha 3D” follows a colorful ensemble of characters as they attempt to make it to the end of the brisk 82 minute running length without being devoured alive by these deadly fish (spoiler: most of them will be). Amongst them are Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) and Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames), “seismologist diver” Novak Radzinsky (Adam Scott), fish expert Mr. Goodman (Christopher Lloyd), coked out gonzo porno director Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) and his stars (Kelly Brook and Riley Steele), as well as a young would-be couple (Steven R. McQueen and Jessica Szohr) that somehow finds itself involved in the shooting of the aforementioned porno.
Most of the members of the cast (which also features cameos by Richard Dreyfuss, Eli Roth and Gianna Michaels) indulge in very enjoyable scenery-chewing, but even those that are playing it straight end up being hilarious because of all the crazy shit that surrounds them. While Aja does take the time to create atmosphere and build tension here and there, for the most part, he’s busy packing every scene with bouncing titties and flowing blood. Right from the “Jaws”-inspired opening up until the final punchline, “Piranha 3D” is full of great gags and money shots, culminating with an epic set piece that borrows cues from both the climax of “Titanic” and the D-Day sequence from “Saving Private Ryan”!
There are probably snobs who’ll turn up their nose at a flick like this, which has pretty much nothing on its mind except finding new and exciting ways of showing naked chicks getting body parts bitten out. But “Piranha 3D” does so with such gleeful enthusiasm and skill that it’s hard not to be won over. Never taking itself too seriously, Aja’s film is like a Troma production with a bigger budget and a better-known cast, but just as much gore, gratuitous nudity and disregard for good taste. And did I mention that all of this is in glorious 3D?