A film review by Craig J. Koban August 25, 2010


2010, R, 90 mins.


Elizabeth Shue: Julie Forester / Jerry O'Connell: Derrick Jones / Steven R. Mcqueen: Jake / Jessica Szohr: Kelly / Richard Dreyfus: Matt Hooper / Ving Rhames: Deputy Fallon / Christopher Lloyd: Mr. Goodman / Eli Roth: Wet T-shirt host


Directed by Alexandre Aja / Written by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg

PIRANHA 3D is in the laughable and dubious tradition of the low-grade “We Want Boobs and Gore” film.   

You know…the type of schlocky and cheaply disposable 1980’s slasher film that involves lots of horny teenagers and twenty-somethings – preferably at a camp, beach, or Spring Break resort – that are picked off in the stomach churning and macabre ways, at least when they are not disrobing to show off their naked facades to all that will see them.  These are the sorts of tawdry films that, if you use your imagination, would involve immature audience members chanting at the back of the theatre, "We want boobs" or "We want gore!"  If you are looking for a film with even modestly interesting or developed characters, plot, and dialogue than PIRANHA 3D is definitely not your cup of tea.  However, if you like naked boobies (and I mean lots of 'em) and an almost hilarious orgy of bloodshed and violence (lots of that too), then this is your film, boys and girls! 

Now…don’t get me wrong.  I like boobies.  I also am no prude to seeing a countless number of egomaniacal, self-serving, and perversely hedonistic young people served up for the slaughter.  PIRANHA 3D has,  at times,  as much exposed female flesh as a Playboy gatefold cover spread and as much inconceivably over-the-top gore and carnage as any sensationalistic grindhouse horror picture.   The makers of PIRANHA 3D certainly know that the core of this film is trash (mix in innumerable shots and scenes of topless beach beauties in all of their hyper-sexualized grandeur and then follow that up by killing them in ridiculously horrific ways; can’t get more trashy than that!).  

Yet, would it have been too much to ask the makers to allow for this film to be a little sly with its tackier elements, perhaps in the same refreshing manner that the SCREAM films were with the horror genre itself?  Plus, would it also have been too much to ask for the film to be at least moderately scary…not to mention funny?  Considering its strict adherence for being trashy, PIRANHA 3D is not nearly as much trashy and exploitative fun as it desperately needed to be.  Instead, the film is just a tedious and forgettable throwaway effort that – let me be very clear – is in no way shape or form worth the $3-4 surcharge – God helps us all - that patrons will be forced to pay to see it in 3D.   

This is the kind of film that can be summed up in one simplistic sales pitch:  prehistoric piranhas have escaped from their oceanic tombs and are now feeding on spring break partiers.  The Spring Break location in question is Lake Victoria, which is home to nearly 50,000 unapologetically drunk, high, and criminally underdressed partiers, so much so that some shots from the film showcasing this sleazy spectacle look like rejected outtakes from CALIGULA.  Anyhoo’, near this hot vacation destination exists an underwater chasm that is suddenly opened by a massive earthquake.  This is not good, seeing as the earthquake has released an enormous, human meat hungry swarm of ancient piranha that have remained dormant for thousands of years.  Even worse, these extremely deadly and proficient killers are just at their baby stage and have not yet fully developed and matured.

For reasons never fully explained outside of a very necessary paycheck, Oscar-nominee Elizabeth Shue appears here as the town sheriff, Julie Forester, who would have been a whole lot more tolerably funny here if she played the role up to its intended camp value like, say, the way she lampooned herself and her celebrity image in the hilarious HAMLET 2.  Alas, Shue attempts to play things irritatingly straight.  Julie's son, Jake (played by Steve McQueen’s grandson, Steven) has been placed in charge of looking after his two much younger siblings while she's out on the job, but the seductive allure of smoking hot naked women galore at Lake Victoria is far too strong for Jake to ignore, so he pays off his kid brother and sister to stay home so that he can take in some of the lake’s – ahem – finer sights. 

Jake crosses paths with a GIRLS GONE WILD-esque producer/director named Derrick Jones, who is played in an embarrassingly manic and crazed performance by Jerry O’Connell, whose performance essentially consists of him acting really slimy and masochistic alongside using words/phrases like, “boobies”, “titties”, “assess”,  “money shot”, “girl-on-girl”, “wet T-shirt”, “slut”, “skank”, “bitches”, and “neh-ked” a lot more than just about any other former STAND BY ME alumni has been asked to in a film.  Jones hires Jake to serves as his tour guide so that he can get suitable shots of his two “actresses” for his next video.  Perhaps the most memorable scene in the entire film involves his two subjects disrobing, jumping into the water, and engaging in a sensual, groping underwater dance/ballet that would definitely not play on any TV network during the Olympic Games. 

Of course, what Jake, Derrick, and the rest of the their crew don’t know is that maliciously hungry piranhas are on the loose.  Well, Shue’s sheriff does in fact find out, but is far too late to warn any of the reveling partiers, who seem completely enamored with their own self-gratification and indulgence to get out of the water.  Things come to a head during a climatic wet t-shirt contest (headed up by the chief H2O gun-boy, played rather enthusiastically by Eli Roth…er…can you blame ‘em?).  After the girls have been suitably wetted to display their dripping and glistening assets, all prehistoric piranha hell breaks loose.   

I will concede that this lengthy wet-t-shirt massacre sequence at least gets creative with how it shows the kids getting massacred by the hundreds.  The lake water, at times, begins to look less naturally aquatic and more like strawberry Kool-Aid from all of the endless bloodletting perpetrated by the murdering fish.  Human victims are sucked dry of their flesh, right down to the bone, as they are dragged down into the waters by their prey; a girl dangling, in one instance, from a hang glider accidentally dips into the sea and, when she pops out of the water, her lower body is left a bloody stump; and in one partiality vomit-inducing moment that will make many a man wince, one character is munched on from the waste down, so much so that his very…uh…manhood has been bitten away.  Don’t worry…we do get a 3D shot of one piranha coughing up his genitalia because it did not like the taste.  Ho-ho. 

There are two other scenes that I appreciated, the first being an unfortunately brief cameo by the wonderfully zany and demented Christopher Lloyd as Mr. Goodman, who happens to be an expert on ancient piranha and hilariously deadpans some of the film’s most entertainingly awful dialogue like, “The piranha hunt in packs!  The first draw blood, blood draws the pack!”  I also howled when Goodman, after viewing one specimen that the sheriff brings to him, screams out, "This specimen vanished off of the face of the earth two million year ago!”  Now, if every other actor in the film played up to the Herculean cheekiness and stupidity of the underlining tone as Lloyd does here, then PIRANHA 3D would have been a whole lot more amusingly digestible.  Is he the only actor – perhaps with the small exception (I’m thinking) of O’Connell - that knows they’re in a very, very bad film?  Shue, McQueen, and even Ving Rhames himself (playing Shue’s deputy) certainly don’t seem in on it. 

The second scene I liked – also regrettably short – is the opening sequence where Richard Dreyfus appears, dressed very, very conspicuously like Matt Hooper, the scientist he played in JAWS.  His character – never actually referred to as “Matt Hooper” in the film – is seen in a fishing boat singing “Show Me The Way To Go Home” (also from JAWS) before he is eaten alive by the recently released piranha.  Now, JAWS served as the influence for the original 1978 PIRANHA made by Joe Dante, which in turn spawned its sequel, subtitled THE SPAWNING, helmed by a very pre-King of the World James Cameron.  I appreciated the wink-wink, subversive referencing of this opening scene in PIRANHA 3D, which could have initiated a satiric vibe that should have stretched the length of the picture.  Well…it didn’t. 

The job of the film critic, I think, is to do three things: (1) report on what the film is about, (2) report on what the film is aiming to do, and (3) report on whether the film succeeded in doing step 2.  PIRANHA 3D is a great “We Want Boobs and Gore” film: we get loads of wet nude bodies and we get loads of piranha feasting on human flesh.  That’s what the film is about.  I think it’s trying to be wantonly trashy, but here it only partially succeeds: it’s not nearly as much fun or as scary or tense as it needs to be (the whole film needed to be as off-the-wall and loony as Christopher Lloyd).  That, and here is a film that, let’s be fair, only exists to be seen in 3D (see its title), but it was not shot in 3D, only cheaply upconverted after the fact, which leaves the end results looking positively and predictably dreadful (there are times when the dullness and haziness of the multi-dimensional underwater footage looks like something I saw in a garbage disposable once; I have never seen 3D footage so unfathomably dark, dreary, and indistinct before).  I would give PIRANHA 3 a higher star rating if it were presented in conventional 2D, but asking the public to spend $14 for a film this utterly forgettable in an unpardonably bad upconverted 3D is a fate more horrific than being served up as the main course to the title creatures themselves.  

At least we get lots of boobs...and gore.

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