Aug 26, 2010

Film Review: Piranha 3D

DIR: Alexandre Aja
CAST: Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen, Jessica Szohr,
Jerry O’Connell, Christopher Lloyd, Kelly Brook

The original PIRANHA wasn’t exactly good; it was a Roger Corman production, which meant it was low budget and not really expected to be intelligent, but thanks to screenwriter John Sayles and Director Joe Dante it actually emerged as a fun movie, paying inventive and witty homage to old B-Movies, while delivering the JAWS aping goods itself. The sequel; PIRANHA 2: FLYING KILLERS is notable only for its awfulness and the fact that it was James Cameron’s first film. This belated third in the series (it sits uneasily somewhere between remake and sequel, though the onscreen title, which is simply PIRANHA, leans to the former) is, to its very limited credit, better than the second film, but that shouldn’t be mistaken as a suggestion that it is any good whatsoever.

You know what to expect with a B-Movie, as Joe Bob Briggs puts it; Blood, boobs and beer. PIRANHA 3D certainly delivers on those promises, but, unlike Dante’s film, it forgets little things like wit and tension. Just to be clear on this… I like tits as much as the next heterosexual guy, but dear God, this film’s focus on them is relentless and dull. If you cut just half of the shots that have no other purpose than to fill the frame with large, bouncing, tits you’d have three minutes that you could fill with a character scene, of course, for that to work you’d have to have characters… but I digress. It’s not that you don’t want tits in an exploitation movie, it’s just that this film’s endless fascination with them, to the exclusion of all else (no less than twice the film stops dead for what amounts to a tit break), makes it feel like the work of a horny 13 year old. This might have been cool if I were still 13, but I’m not, and 13 year olds can’t see this movie.

The gore is better used, certainly it’s more sparing, at least in that Aja makes you wait for it. The physical effects by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger are exceptional (one especially great, and nasty, moment comes when a girl gets her hair tangled a boat propeller, which tightens until it rips her face off). The major piranha attack set piece is good old fashioned exploitation fare, and the one sequence of the film that largely works; 10 minutes of inventively blood drenched mayhem, with the welcome kicker of watching Eli Roth get killed. What’s missing during the earlier gory moments is any real sense of tension, or any interest in the people who are getting eaten. Some of the effects are good, but it’s just not as much fun as it ought to be.

This is perhaps down to the script and the performances. To be fair, Elisabeth Shue gives her best as the small town sheriff trying to police spring break in her lakeside town, and Christopher Lloyd’s eye-rolling mania is a wonderful little mid-movie treat, but otherwise the cast are either bland (McQueen, Szohr, Brook) or relentlessly irritating (O’Connell). There’s not a single interesting or likeable character in this movie, and so when we get to the ludicrous final few minutes, there’s just nothing worth caring about. I haven’t wanted characters to get eaten so badly since I sat through OPEN WATER.

Even if the film were better, I still wouldn’t be recommending it, because the 3D is the worst I’ve seen in over a year, perhaps ever. The 3D is so unspeakably awful that it rendered the film, for me, all but unwatchable. It’s a conversion job, so every shot has three very distinct layers. The foreground is never in focus, not for one single frame, and so every single effect involving something floating out of the screen (and there are many, all of which the film stops dead for) looks incredibly fake, and then drifts out of focus. The rest of the frame is very soft. This is most prominently seen in the hideously overlit sequence in which a naked Kelly Brook and Riley Steele swim underwater. It’s so bad that the girls look like they are CGI, and any detail of their nudity is largely obscured by Aja’s awful shot selection and the abysmal 3D. There are also huge problems with ghosting, which could cause headaches as well as just being ugly and inept.

I can’t for the life of me understand the generally appreciative reviews that PIRANHA 3D has been collecting, it’s a stupid movie that’s a lot less fun than it thinks it is, and besides that it is technically broken. No film should be released in such a state.

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