The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Piranha 3D
Adam Scott and Elisabeth Shue help half-chewed victims out of the water.

Do you want to see often-naked spring breakers being eaten alive by flesh-eating fish, with body parts (severed and non-severed) floating directly toward your face in 3D? If you answered "no," you might as well stop reading now. On the other hand, if you answered "yes," then you are my kind of person. You also need to make plans to see Piranha 3D, a film is that everything you could want from a cheesy B-movie and more. There's a great tradition of B-movies, but Hollywood doesn't make 'em like they used to anymore. B-movies started getting bigger budgets and eventually became A-list blockbusters. This film has the vintage B-movie spirit: it throws in lots of blood, lots of boobs, and an occasional well-timed joke to let you know that it doesn't take itself too seriously and you shouldn't either.

The story takes place at Lake Victoria, a popular spring break destination. An earthquake makes a rupture in the floor of the lake, setting thousands of ravenous prehistoric piranha loose. They immediately begin chomping on nubile young men and women who have only come to party. The town sheriff, Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), finds out what's going on and tries to prevent a catastrophe. Her son Jake (Steven R. McQueen), however, has gotten trapped on a boat in the middle of the lake. Jake has been hired to be a location scout for a sleazy, Joe Francis type named Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell) who's producing one of those videos where co-eds get drunk and take off their tops for the camera. In the midst of trying to get the determined partiers out of the water, Julie also has to save Jake, her two younger children who are with him, and Jake's girlfriend Kelly (Jessica Szohr). Fortunately, she has a deputy (Ving Rhames) and a friend (Adam Scott) to help.

A good movie will have two or three scenes you can't wait to talk about with others (the gravity-free fight in Inception, the chest-waxing scene in The 40-Year Old Virgin, etc.). Piranha 3D has at least a dozen such scenes. Blowing all the good parts would be cruel, so let me reveal just one minor scene to give you an indication of the campy/creepy tone. A female partygoer floats in an inner tube. Director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) gives us an underwater shot beneath her, so we can see that her rear end is sticking out the bottom. The piranhas start flocking, getting closer and closer. They start chewing on her butt. Back above the water, we see her get sucked down through the middle of the inner tube. This is one of the film's less outrageous scenes (!). What happens to the parasailing female is even worse. What happens to Derrick is perhaps worst of all. (Incidentally, that's not a spoiler; everyone knows the bad guy dies a gruesome death in these movies.)

You either dig this B-movie aesthetic or you don't. Piranha 3D makes no apologies. It's intentionally gratuitous, never missing a chance to flash bare skin or to spill gallons of blood everywhere. The kills walk that fine line of being simultaneously nasty and ridiculous; for that reason, I often found myself squirming, then laughing. I know this may not make much sense, but Piranha is sick in a really delightful manner. Sure, much of what happens is gross, yet it's kind of hard to get too repulsed because, come on, we're watching crazed killer fish! Aja also makes sure to pack in enough little movie-lover jokes to lighten things up. Richard Dreyfuss cameos as a character who looks suspiciously like the one he played in Jaws (and who is listed in the credits as "Matt Boyd"). Christopher Lloyd cameos as well, allegedly playing a retired professor who helps Julie identify the fish, but in reality playing Doc Brown from Back to the Future. How can you not love that?

The 3D in Piranha goes against everything I normally stand for. For starters, it's used in a gimmicky way: to show breasts, or attacking fish, or detached limbs. At one point, someone even pukes right into the camera. This is also a post-conversion, meaning that the movie was filmed in 2D, then converted later, with a few special effects elements created specifically for the extra dimension. The scenes of people talking don't really look all that three-dimensional; it's no Avatar, that's for sure. Despite these two things, 3D is the only way to see Piranha because the technique works for the "good parts." An intentionally cheesy movie like this demands gimmicky 3D; if we didn't see piranha chomping flesh right in front of our faces, it would seem like a letdown. The 3D looks pretty good in underwater shots and during the attacks, which is where it counts. The process kicks up the movie's inherent campiness.

Piranha 3D could have gone so, so wrong, yet it completely works. It is a loose remake of an old Roger Corman picture, and it gets that drive-in vibe exactly right. No one is ever going to mistake the movie for awards material, or even for great filmmaking, but I had a blast watching it. Piranha 3D is a gory, self-aware joyride that is insane in all the right ways.

( 1/2 out of four)

Piranha 3D is rated R for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.