Monday, February 7, 2011

Movie Monday: Piranha 3D

While I'm waiting for the next Facebook page-inspired film to arrive, I sat down and watched a movie I wanted to see when it came out last year, but am just now getting around to: Piranha 3D!

Sadly(?), I don't own one of those new fancy 3D sets, so I had to be able to immerse myself in the film via plain old 2D, like my ancestors did.

Piranha 3D opens in quite possibly the most charming, cool cameo in a film, ever: with a grizzled fisherman, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who looks a lot like he did when he played Matt Hooper in Jaws:
Even though he is credited here as Matt Boyd, the film makes no bones about who this is supposed to be: Dreyfuss here looks a lot like his old nemesis Quint did back in the day, we hear "Show Me The Way To Go Home" playing in the background, and the beer Hooper--er, Boyd--is chugging is labeled Amity (I guess Mayor Vaughn finally gave up denying Amity's shark-y reputation and decided to go the other way: merchandising!).

Why Universal's lawyers (surely the culprits here) couldn't just let Dreyfuss be Matt Hooper, I don't know: its not like they're doing--or will be doing--anything with the character ( that I say that, I can picture some awful Jaws prequel script being prepared, with Ryan Reynolds as Young Matt Hooper.

Okay, anyway, Matt runs afoul of the titular piranhas when his boat overturns as it sucked into a whirpool created by a seaquake, the same quake that frees the deadly little buggers. Matt is chomped to death, and as his mangled outstretched hand sinks beneath the surface for the last time, we get our credits:
The main movie is set during Spring Break at Lake Victoria, and we see that the quiet town has been overrun by drunken frat guys, dimwitted, big-boobed teen girls, and a Girls Gone Wild-esque host named Derrick Jones, played by Jerry O'Connell.

The town's police is overwhelmed, and the sheriff, played by Elisabeth Shue, doesn't have much patience for the spring breakers' jerky behavior. After one of them propositions her, she slams him into a car hood, cuffing him, and offering a taser for any of his friends foolish enough to interfere:
Her son Jake (Steven McQueen) is enjoying the festivities, sort of, as he banters back and forth with the beautiful Kelly (Jessica Szohr). They both get roped into climbing aboard Jones' boat, where he plans to shoot some more racy video. Jake is supposed to be minding his younger brother and sister, so he bribes them into not telling their mother as they go off on their own.

Later that night, Sheriff Forrester and her deputy (Ving Rhames) find Boyd's chewed-up body, and try to figure out what the hell happened. They find Boyd's empty rowboat, where a still living piranha has landed. They capture it and bring it to a local expert named Mr. Goodman (Christopher Lloyd, channeling Doc Brown). Goodman is amazed and horrified at what he sees, and can only offer vague theories as to where these nightmarish beasts came from.

Meanwhile, some oceanographers (led by Adam Scott) go exploring, and the two divers run into trouble--a lot of trouble. When one of them gets cut accidentally grabbing a baby piranha, he turns around his flashlight shows him just how much trouble he's in:
The piranhas are all CG, and most of the time the effects are fairly weak in that standard CG way: none of them seem to have any real weight, they move too fast and too fluidly. But there are occasional moments where it works, like in the scene pictured above. There's just the briefest of moments before the piranhas attack, and its pretty chilling.

While Jake is off partying, and his little siblings get stranded on a tiny island in the lake, the piranhas go wild, and attack near shore, ripping into each and every spring breaker:
This is where the movie really lets it rip: in a sequence about ten minutes long, we see untold amounts of carnage: a young paragliding woman has her legs eaten away, two young girls are sliced in half by a stray electric cable--before they even realize what's happened, their torsos have separated from their bottom halves.

One young injured woman, being carried ashore by two cops, falls apart like a piece of bread. Heads get ripped off, the water fills with blood. One punk, only concerned with his own safety, grabs a boat and gleefully mows down other people in an attempt to escape:
This part leads to, IMO, the film's nastiest, most unsettling gore effect: a young woman's hair gets entangled by the boat's motor, jamming it. The young d-bag doesn't care, and starts the motor again, ripping the scalp off the young woman, which we see in full daylight. Maybe I'm not as sanguine about gore as I was when i was younger, but that bit actually made me a little queasy.

Meanwhile, the piranhas are also attacking the Girls Gone Wild-ish party boat. One of the girls is eaten from the inside, and we see a piranha fly out of her mouth, a truly inventive bit. Jones gets attacked too, and is dragged aboard by one of the babes he was filming (Kelly Brook). This leads to the film's funniest, most audacious effect:
As Jerry O'Donnell--the top half, at least--screams in agony and the girl smacks the piranhas with a paddle, you have to laugh at the sheer ghoulish energy this movie has (it also helped me laugh that this effect reminded me of a sketch from the late, great Mr. Show, about a heavy metal band visiting their biggest, most indefatigable fan in the hospital).

Sheriff Forrester, once she learns her children are not safe, goes to rescue them, along with Scott's character Novak. They can't get too close otherwise they'll ground their boat, so they jerry-rig a rope line so everyone can repel across.

Back on shore, the carnage continues, and Deputy Fallon makes a final brave effort to kill every piranha he can: grabbing a motor, he plunges it into the water reducing many piranhas to bits as the rest tear him apart, bit by bit:
Sheriff Forrester manages to rescue everyone (well, almost: Kelly Brook's Danni is snagged by a piranha halfway across and is dragged into the water), leaving only her son and his erstwhile girlfriend Kelly, who is trapped in a cabin below that is slowly filling with water!

Using Jones' remaining corpse as a sort of appetizer, he throws it into the water as he dives below, coming back up in the cabin where he and Kelly will get towed out to safety, after they set an explosion via the boat's gasoline tanks.

The explosion goes off, leaving many piranhas belly up. Everyone thinks that's the end of it (why?), until they get a call from Mr. Goodman:
He has some bad news, which I will not reveal here but is probably easy to guess--especially if you saw the film's trailer, which gives it away! Nice job, marketing department!

I found Piranha 3D to be loads of fun, something woefully lacking in many horror films: the absurdly overqualified cast is really game here, and the director (Alexandre Aja) keeps things moving at a good pace; knowing when to slow down and knowing when to really let things go crazy: as I mentioned, the over ten minute sequence of frat boys and bimbos get reduced to bite-sized bits is a blast: the filmmakers know you hate these loud, crude, drunken, spoiled jackasses, and its fun watching them all meet a (very) grisly end. Or maybe its just I haven't gotten over not being popular in high school.

In any case, I enjoyed the film quite a bit; sure, its trash, but its fun trash that at 98 minutes doesn't wear out its welcome.

Ironically, the only part of this movie I had a problem with involves the opening cameo I loved so much: Matt Hooper/Boyd buys it, which I hated seeing! If we're to go along with the joke that Piranha 3D exists in the same universe as Jaws, then we know Matt Hooper is the only one of the three shark-hunters left (Quint died in the first film of course, and we learn that Chief Brody is dead by the abysmal Jaws 4).

Matt Hooper deserved to live, not get eaten by a bunch of piranha; I would have loved to have seen Matt survive and live to tell about yet another terrifying encounter he had on the water!

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