Retro Review: PIRANHA 3D (2010){0}

Here’s a list of things you’ll definitely experience if you buy a ticket to Alexandre Aja’s remake of Joe Dante’s Piranha, Piranha 3D.

1. Some intermittently effective 3D trickery that I certainly won’t miss when the DVD hits the shelves.

2. Tons of gory scenes in which prehistoric, ravenous fish chew on shrieking people, most of whom have it coming for being A) obnoxious, B) selfish, or C) really, really hot.

3. A broad and welcome sense of humor that’s certainly not as subtle as the wit found in the original film, but definitely helps to keep the cheesiness of the new version afloat.

4. An affable ensemble of familiar actors who are well aware of the kind of film they’re making.

5. Lots of bare breasts, sort of like the bare breasts that used to run rampant through drive-in-style B-grade monster movies, only … well … larger. It is 2010 after all.

That’s not to say that a film earns a pass simply because it plainly admits its own silliness. But for all its base leering at boobies and for all its clunky editing (more on that in a minute), there’s actually a good deal to appreciate in the new-fangled version of Piranha. (And no, the 3D is not one of those things.) Plus I see lots of films that shoot for “so bad it’s good,” and very few of them are able to pull it off — mainly because it’s a terrible way to make a film. But to their credit, Aja and regular collaborator Gregory Levasseur don’t shoot for “so bad it’s good.” To me it seems more like they’re going for “so fun it’s stupid.” Or probably vice versa.

The setting is Lake Victoria, Arizona, and it’s here that thousands of horny coeds have flocked to dance around on boats, jiggle their gender goodies, and basically behave like drunken satyrs. The 84-minute minute flick isn’t all that interested in boring stuff like “character development,” so instead we just get cursory introductions to the sheriff (Elisabeth Shue), the deputy (Ving Rhames), the scientist (Adam Scott), the party animal (Jerry O’Connell), the fish expert (Christopher Lloyd), and the oft-nude hotties (Kelly Brook & Riley Steele). To this cast of simple characters we add a massive school of outrageously angry prehistoric piranha who are unleashed into Lake Victoria after an underwater earthquake.

Inception this is not.

What Piranha is, however, is unapologetically gleeful about doling out the cinematic junk food that you’re looking for when you sit down to devour something called, well, Piranha. And it does so with a big goofy grin on its face, as if the flick is telling you a gross and dirty joke, and it’s hoping you’re interested enough to stick around for the punchline. In addition to the film’s staunchly R-rated but cartoonish mentality, there are actually some legitimately impressive components on display here. John Leonetti’s lovely cinematography, for example, is probably nicer than a film like this actually needs — but then again the 3D conversion process virtually ruins the visual prettiness of it, anyway. (Seriously though, for such a willfully tacky horror movie, Piranha is shot quite well, especially in the underwater scenes.)

Unfortunately, Piranha is also cut like a third-rate sitcom. One wonders if the film wasn’t re-re-re-edited at the very last second because it jumps clunkily from one set-up scene to the next (with some static underwater shots slapped across the cuts like a band-aid), plus it fails to show us the lovely Dina Meyer’s FACE before she becomes fish food, and it disposes of a peripheral character (played by the funny Paul Scheer) by simply forgetting he ever existed. Other characters (like the deputy and a pair of local bullies) clearly had most of their moments dropped into the “deleted scenes” bin, which sucks a lot of energy from a generally fun movie and draws attention to the flick’s innate silliness. (Bad editing can ruin a potentially great movie, and this is hardly a great movie.)

But for all its technical gaffes and repetitively sophomoric attitudes, there’s something truly endearing about a monster movie / disaster flick that embraces its R rating so passionately. Piranha is virtually awash in bouncing boobs, horny boys, and freakish fish, and trying to apply “grown up” rules of film analysis seem a little beside the point. Bolstered by an eclectic cast, a giddy enthusiasm (that’s peppered with several geeky in-jokes), and lots of outrageously creative gore, Piranha is made almost exclusively for those who long to see a “big-budget Syfy Channel movie.” By that measure Piranha is a success — although you’ll probably enjoy it just as much if you wait for the DVD release. Probably more, truth be told.