Friday, August 20, 2010

"Piranha 3D" bloody, topless, campy fun

Piranha 3D (2010)
88 min., rated R.

If you're going to remake the fun, tongue-in-cheek Roger Corman-produced "Jaws" spoof from 1978 (let alone in 3-D conversion), "Piranha 3D" is the way to do it. You want subtlety? Look some place else. It's shameless trash that knows it and makes no bones about what it's trying to be; it just goes for it. What's "Piranha 3D" about you ask? How quaint. Easy: it's a wild Spring Break party in Lake Victoria (played by Lake Havasu), where a quake rattles the underwater floor and unleashes schools of prehistoric, killing-machine piranha! This is an August popcorn movie, not high art, so that's all you need to know. 

Elisabeth Shue, as the local sheriff, and Ving Rhames, as her deputy, want to shut down the lake, while her teen son (Steve McQueen's grandson Steven R. McQueen) and hammered, bare-breasted extras become a buffet for the fishies. The random cast of familiar faces is gung-ho and straight-faced, with Richard Dreyfuss turning in a cameo off the top as an in-joke to "Jaws" (notice the song he's singing) and Christopher Lloyd (what a sight for sore eyes) shows up as a wacky scientist who gives Doc Brown exposition and warnings of doom. The first half hour is an unevenly paced wind-up, with some deaths thrown in without setup, but after four or five margaritas you won't really care. The rest delivers a no-holds-barred, awesomely funny, unapologetically violent Grand Guignol of carnage, packed with jolty, gory guffaws, just the way expectations would have it. 

For what is pretty much Syfy Channel schlock in a "Jersey Shore" episode, director Alexandre Aja never holds back on his hard R-rated servings of jiggling T&A and outrageous gross-outs: a topless parasailer dips into the water, jugs afloat, and emerges a torso, while another gets her hair caught in a speed boat motor. Basically any swimmer ends up looking like a sulfuric acid victim. A smarmy, obnoxious “Girls Gone Wild”-style producer (Jerry O'Connell) meets his fate in the worst way and an over-excited wet T-shirt contest host (Eli Roth) loses his head in a hideous fate. For further understanding of how seriously we're supposed to take this, we even get a little slo-mo underwater ballet between naked supermodel Kelly Brook and porn star Riley Steele, cued to the opera tune “Flower Duet.” 

So how is "Piranha" in the 3rd dimension? The 3-D leaves some of the underwater killings murky, but takes advantage of perfectly gimmicky and gratuitous duck-your-head! shots (including overboard vomiting, boobs in your face, and a severed, chewed-up penis projecting at your face right before becoming fish food). Bloody but not without a sure sense of fun and gleefully knowing without feeling like self-parody, "Piranha 3D" is the way to end the summer: the gnarly kind of guilty-pleasure cheese that's a dumb blast. And the sequel-setup ending's a hoot. 

Grade: B +

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