B-movies so often disappoint, offering up goofy fun but utterly failing to deliver. Luckily, the new fishploitation joyride Piranha 3D is a maniacal and outrageous piece of lunacy that supplies everything that you might want from a movie with that title, and then some. There are enough boobs, blood and bullets in Piranha 3D for five or six movies.
Its spring break in Lake Victoria, Ariz., and Sheriff Julie Forrester (Elisabeth Shue) and her deputy (Ving Rhames) have to deal with an influx of 20,000 drunken kids. Her problems are made considerably worse when an earthquake opens up a passage to a subterranean lake beneath Lake Victoria that frees a species of prehistoric super-piranha. These fish were supposed to have died out millions of years ago, but they survived, trapped in the subterranean lake, by eating each other, which has made them extra mean.
After the earthquake, a team of seismologist divers, headed by Novak (Adam Scott), are sent in to investigate. Meanwhile, amateur porn producer Derrick Scott (Jerry O’Connell), who is more than a little reminiscent of Girls Gone Wild producer Joe Francis, comes to town and gets the sheriff’s son, Jake (Steven R. McQueen), and his not-quite girlfriend, Kelly (Jessica Szohr, from Gossip Girl), to show him around to all the best spots for convincing girls to take their tops off.
That’s about all the information you need to get going. The movie seems to want to have the barest amount of set-up possible before it can get to the good stuff. The characters aren’t particularly deep (I had to look up the name of Scott’s character online), the movie doesn’t exactly have a lot of plot and what’s there is pretty familiar. There’s the first couple of dead bodies, which raise an alarm, followed by the visit to an expert (Christopher Lloyd, so over the top I thought his eyes would bug out of his head like they did in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), who tells everybody exactly how screwed they are, followed by widespread carnage. To be fair, there is a lot of wasted time early in the film, with, for example, the burgeoning romance between McQueen and Szohr being particular dead weight, but when the film gets going it takes no prisoners.
The original Piranha was part of the wave of Jaws rip-offs in the late 1970s, but it was quite a bit smarter than it needed to be, boasting a script by John Sayles (Matewan, Eight Men Out) and direction by Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling). This version continues the tradition of ripping off Jaws, with a cameo from Richard Dreyfuss in which he pretty much plays his character from that film, and the familiar plot of a local sheriff who wants to shut down a resort town on a holiday but isn’t allowed to.
I don’t know if I’d call the new Piranha smart, exactly, but the film has its tongue firmly in its cheek, and is quite hilarious when it wants to be. To be fair, the movie’s targets (horror movie tropes, Girls Gone Wild) are pretty easy pickings, but the film hits them squarely.
Amid all the comedy, though, director Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) makes sure it is outrageous and exciting. Aja’s previous films were also gory horror, but also rather dour, while here he has wholeheartedly embraced the ridiculous, making the film delightfully sleazy, with tons of nudity and buckets of gore to be found. O’Connell’s Wild Wild Girls are played by porn star Riley Steele and British model Kelly Brook, who seems like she must have been specially constructed to be filmed in 3-D. The two have a naked underwater ballet that must be seen to be believed. It makes you wonder why people have been wasting 3-D on cartoons so much.
The film also has plenty of outrageous gore, and its centerpiece, which has the piranha descending on the spring break kids, has to be one of the most spectacularly violent sequences I’ve ever seen, almost overwhelming in its carnage. You can almost feel the filmmakers cackling offscreen at what they were able to get away with. The sequence approaches the level of gore seen in Peter Jackson’s zombie comedy Dead Alive, which is probably purposeful, since Ving Rhames taking an outboard motor to the piranha is more than a little reminiscent of Dead Alive’s infamous “lawnmower of doom” sequence.
The largely overqualified cast seems to know exactly what kind of movie they’re in. Shue has to be the straight man and supposed emotional center of the movie (if it had an emotional center), but she does it well. Scott, who was very funny on the recently canceled show Party Down, is delightfully droll here, as his character transforms from freaked-out scientist one minute to hopping on a jet ski and taking out piranhas with a shotgun the next. And O’Connell is so convincing as his super-douche of a character that it makes you question what he’s like in real life.
Piranha 3D is weirdly pure in its gratuitous gore and sleazy nudity. It has nothing on its mind besides giving us horror fans exactly the B-movie insanity that we want, and delivers it from the first frame to the last, making us giggle all the while.
Carey Norris writes about film for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.