Piranha 3D (2010): United States – directed by Alexandre Aja
Rated R by the MPAA – contains gratuitous nudity, wanton violence and gore, CG blood, drug use, bad behavior, language, and more nudity
Note: This review discusses some of the more unpleasant aspects of Piranha 3D, and should only be read by mature movie-goers. It may also contain a few spoilers.
Rarely has a film succeeded so gratuitously in its intentions as Piranha 3D. It is shameless in its exploitation, and manages to fill the void in true grindhouse American cinema that has been lacking for so many years. It is what Grindhouse itself should have been. And it’s the closest America has ever seen to the Japanese shock films of the past few years; it only took a renowned French director to bring it to life.
Alexandre Aja broke onto the horror scene with High Tension, an intense and horrific film that helped usher in a new era of European horror. That film was initially rated NC-17, and was undeniably more unsettling that Piranha 3D. However, it contained nowhere near the amount of gratuitous nudity or CG blood that Piranha 3D managed to sneak by the MPAA. I would have paid a small fortune to listen in as the MPAA’s panel of “parents” discussed the film and decided it would be appropriate for any age of person if a parent or guardian accompanied them.
The first portion of the film is standard setup, with an amusing cameo by top billed Richard Dreyfuss as a fisherman who loses a bottle of beer as he fishes Lake Victoria. An earthquake unleashes a hidden deposit of prehistoric piranhas and poor Richard melts into a cyclone of blood as the throwback title shimmers to the screen. A perfect opening for a pitch-perfect exploitation film.
The small desert town of Lake Victoria is home to a small population most of the year, but swells for a week during an orgiastic spring break celebration. Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) struggles to maintain order during the bikini-clad partying, even though she has strongman Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) backing her up. At home she has to contend with her 17 year old son Jake (Steven R. McQueen) and her two younger children. Jake has his own problems, including the forced babysitting of the younger kids as the wet dream of any teenage boy unfolds around him. Compounding matters are a cute high school friend named Kelly (Jessica Szohr); they appear to be exes but are definitely friendly and may still have feelings for each other.
Jake gets caught up in a new adventure, as playboy manipulator Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell as the founder of Girls Gone Wild, though we mustn’t mention this fact for fear of libel suits) enlists him to be a location scout for his soft-core porn videos. His outfit is Wild Wild Girls, featuring a website and videos wherein girls remove the majority of their clothing and occasionally make out with each other. Along for the ride are Danni (the scientifically endowed Kelly Brook) and Crystal (real-life porn star Riley Steele). The two of them will be the main stars of Derrick’s new video series.
The first section of the film has only occasional moments of violence and gore, culminating with a seismological team guided by Sheriff Forester being attacked by hordes of piranhas. Much of the first half of the film is almost entirely focused on random and gratuitous nudity. Part of Derrick’s shoot involves naked Danni and Crystal gyrating together underwater in a nude ballet. The scene is remarkably reminiscent of the 1934 Tarzan and His Mate, wherein Maureen O’Sullivan (and her body double) taunted the Production Code.
The violence starts up again when a wet t-shirt contest is interrupted by swarms of piranhas and the Wild Wild Girls boat encounters some problems. The last half of the film is an orgy of blood, with almost nothing but CG piranhas chomping CG bites out of a bevy of bikini clad spring breakers.
Piranha 3D’s success as an exploitation movies lies in how well it understands the genre. There are serious moments in the film, but none of them expects to be taken seriously. Christopher Lloyd appears for a brief cameo as a respected scientist, and his scenes are some of the most enjoyably laughable. Even the blood and gore is treated humorously, with almost all of it being computer generated like the recent Tokyo Gore Police [review here] and almost all other Japanese shock films. The CG ranges from barely acceptable to absolutely dreadful, but at least there is no CG rain like in Hard Revenge Milly [review here]. Much of the violent action occurs as flurries of piranha movement, and it is often difficult to discern which body parts are being consumed.
As mentioned above, there is a ridiculous amount of nudity in the film. After about twenty minutes, however, it feels less like a natural part of the exploitation film and more like a soft corn porno. It eventually devolves into more of a debasement than a celebration of the human form, with Derrick taking much of the blame for that development. His comeuppance is fitting, though probably not enough: his lower torso is consumed by piranhas, and his penis is later shown floating through the water where it is consumed by one piranha and then vomited out toward any audience (un)fortunate enough to be watching it in 3D. Unfortunately this is the only instance of male nudity, and it certainly isn’t enough to balance such an amount of female nudity. The shot of the dismembered penis does match well with another in which Crystal’s silicon implants are shown floating away from her devoured corpse.
As pure, unadulterated (or is that overadulterated?) exploitation America hasn’t seen anything like Piranha 3D in quite some time. It is adequately shot, not-too-laughably written and acted, and understands that it doesn’t need to bother with plot, story, or characters too much. As Blood Boobs and Beast [review here] so efficiently stated, if you have those three elements your movie will be successful.
It’s hard for me to recommend Piranha 3D to most audiences for those same reasons. It is the ultimate satisfier of the most base human desires, offering everything (and more) that man could want in a film. But even with Derrick’s penis being eaten it doesn’t include enough redemption of any kind, other than as an historical landmark in the history of American exploitation cinema (directed by a Frenchman). The inclusion of Elisabeth Shue is welcome, as she is the most attractive female in the film. Devoid of silicon she is the most natural woman and strongest character in the film, and makes me appreciate my own wife more. But any themes her inclusion might carry are vastly overshadowed by extended sequences that could have literally been ripped from “Girls Gone Wild,” albeit with better lighting and more recognizable boobs.
But Piranha 3D is the perfect film for a certain audience; this is undeniable. Fans of horror and exploitation films will be delighted, even if Piranha 3D is almost too overt in its eagerness to provide momentary satisfaction, and little else, for the majority of its intended audience.