****This review contains spoilers****
Piranha 3D is a rare movie experience. It’s a stupid movie made for stupid people, but at only 1hr 30mins long I was surprised to find it end long before I expected or really wanted it to. Its main redeeming feature is that stuff happens at such a relentless pace you aren’t given time to get bored or question things too much. Strangely, the only scene that seemed to drag is a 4-5 minute butt-naked swimming scene with Kelly Brook and pornstar Riley Steele.
It’s formulaic, but you’re constantly kept guessing as to which particular formula it’s playing around with at the time. The problem with formulaic movies is that they’re predictable. Whether by design or accident, Piranha 3D sidesteps this pitfall by energetically jumping from cliche to cliche. It picks something up and then seems to drop it later down the line, then leads you somewhere else only to return later to that thing you’ve already half-forgotten.
It’s like some hot girl seducing you into walking down a back alley where she mugs you, only to return half your money later that evening and flash her tits at you. On the whole, you wouldn’t say it was the greatest experience, but it was certainly interesting and you’re not too worse off at the end of it.
This doesn’t sound great but it seems to work for Piranha 3D, mainly because of the refreshingly short runtime. Though the shocking ending does help almost magically alleviate many of the faults in the plot by simply not attempting to resolve anything.
The Harry Potter movies could learn a lot from Piranha 3D. If you’re watching the Potter movies for the story, you should really learn how to read. Targeted at kids, the makers of the Harry Potter movies would probably be better off if they forgot most of the plot and simply tried to cram only the most entertaining bits from each book into one and a half hour instalments. I don’t think many kids would mind if they skipped the tedious exploration of Professor Lupin’s angsty existence and just had a fucking scary werewolf kicking ass. They could also end at the most exciting part of the beginning of the next book, thus avoiding the lame endings; wrapping everything up is pointless when you know the same shit will just kick off next time around.
What’s good about it:
The very best thing about Piranha 3D is that you go to the cinema thinking it’s a cheesy horror about killer prehistoric fish with a cameo from Kelly Brook’s chest, only to discover it’s actually just a movie about boobs.
I love Jerry O’Connell and his disastrous career choices. While the transition to three dimensions was restricted to the fish and not the characters (hohoho), O’Connell’s performance as a sleazy porn director was, at least, energetic. His character seemed to be the only one who actually enjoyed life.
The gore is pretty ace.
The cheeky opener starring Richard Dreyfuss mumbling along to “show me the way to go home”.
Riley Steele motorboats Kelly Brook. Brbrbrbrbrbr.
What’s bad about it:
Absolutely pointless 3D effects. Possibly the stupidest thing about this movie occurred within the first 30 seconds and summed up all that’s wrong with most 3D movies. The FX guys clearly forgot how perspective works and attempted to apply a ropey 3D style to the distant mountains. The cardboard backdrops in Wizard of Oz were more convincing. As my eyes struggled to adapt to this abnormal way of viewing a landscape any hope for an immersive experience was instantly shattered.
I was having a piss when they explained the origin of the killer piranhas. But, from the movie poster, I gather 200 million years of evolution created the perfect killing machine? I’m no expert in evolution, but wouldn’t the result of spending 200 million years in the chilly depths of a sealed cave with no source of food be more likely to produce virtually blind, slow-moving, physically retarded, albino fish with an aversion to light? I suppose this is nitpicking, but I honestly believe the film wouldn’t have suffered if Christopher Lloyd had said “I have no fucking idea how these things exist! It doesn’t make sense!”. I don’t understand why screenwriters think these dubious, pseudo-scientific justifications for fantastic creatures need to be included. At best these explanations are merely confusing and at worst they are so clearly ridiculous they shatter any suspension of disbelief you were desperately clinging to.
Most of what happens is stupid and doesn’t make much sense. Like I said, this isn’t a huge problem because some nice boobs are never too far away to distract you. But if you don’t like boobs or get hung up on this type of thing you will find a lot of the plot and character work intolerable. Here’s a few examples:
The main protagonist fits the mold of a typically down-on-his-luck everyman, guiding us through extraordinary circumstances until he saves the day and gets the girl. However, he spends most of the time outside the main scope of events being really boring.
Two kids (two of only a handful of characters whom I genuinely cared about whether they lived or died) are stranded on a small island surrounded by water filled with flesh-eating super-piranha. We are teased with their peril when the girl cuts her foot in the water and, unwittingly, narrowly avoids being nipped by one of the fishes. We kind of forget about them, however, until later when our protagonist spots them on the island and has the boat move closer for a potentially dramatic rescue. Worryingly, it’s a big boat in shallow water and the kids must go waist-deep into the water to reach it. The audience grows tense as the adorable innocents enter the water… and then casually board the boat without anything happening. They spend the rest of the movie comfortably avoiding any real danger.
The main guy’s love interest starts the movie with an arsehole for a boyfriend. This always annoys me as it instantly establishes her as a dickhead and makes you assume the main guy must also be dickhead for loving her. She further cements this opinion when she ditches the arsehole boyfriend because he lied about having backstage passes (note: she was happy to stay with the arsehole boyfriend when he and his best mate were acting like cunts towards our protagonist). There is not a single scene in this movie in which she isn’t being a dick.
Love interest is trapped in the cabin of the rapidly sinking yacht fending off piranha with a frying pan while the protagonist desperately tries to rescue her through a skylight which is, despairingly, too narrow and out of her reach. Our hero does the only thing he can do: call his mum. The movie then completely changes pace, another couple of challenges are thrown in to distract us from the main event and, minutes later, the mum arrives to rescue our hero. After a few more minutes of pointless dialogue, you find yourself wondering if the love interest has already been eaten in a deleted scene. Eventually, our hero finds the right time to mention her plight.
Ving Rhames, phoning in a “too old for this shit” cop, sacrifices himself for no good reason using an outboard motor to ineffectually chop up seemingly suicidal fishes. As he gets torn apart by a swarm of ravenous piranha the film cuts to a shot of another cop looking absolutely distraught. Who is this distraught cop? Have we seen him previously in the movie? Were they lovers? You know a director’s struggling when they need to use another actor to show the audience what emotion they should be experiencing.
The cops, led by the sheriff, hero’s mum (Elisabeth Shue), and her deputy (Ving Rhames) are utterly useless when the piranha attack. Scores of college kids on spring break are gruesomely killed because of their incompetence. Their advance knowledge of the threat saves no-one. They may as well have not even been there.
The yacht carrying our hero, the love interest, Jerry O’Connell, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele and the kids has its propellor caught in some sea weed (or something). A coked-up O’Connell freaks out, aggressively gunning the engine in an attempt to free them. This would be the perfect moment for our hero to develop as a character and assert himself by challenging the bullying O’Connell over control of the ship. Instead, he hovers around the periphery, whining that carrying on like that will break the engine. O’Connell carries on like that and the engine doesn’t break.
The hero saves the girl using the dead body of O’Connell to distract the piranha and swim into the sunken cabin. We know this wouldn’t work. During the attack on the college kids, the piranha were munching on anything and everything in the water. There was never any suggestion that the pack concentrates on one feast at a time. Even if there was, the hero would not have witnessed it. Nor does he know how many piranha are under the boat. The plan is the equivalent of pouring a bucket of chum into a mass of sharks during a feeding frenzy, moments before jumping in for a swim.
Kelly Brook’s character has a weird Gandalf-ish quality. I didn’t get it.
What I would do differently:
Here’s the thing: there’s very little I would change about this movie. Even fixing some of the issues I’ve described above would add too much complexity and detract from the film’s entertainment value. However, as I’ve already said, I wouldn’t give an explanation for the piranha’s existence. I would definitely recast the love interest and give her more of a personality (as unfashionable as that may in Hollywood). I’d also want to see more of Carlos from Desperate Housewives and Dizzy from Starship Troopers. Despite only a fleeting appearance, they had good chemistry together and brought the total number of characters who I gave even the slightest hint of a shit about up to a grand total of 5.
If you ever watched MTV’s spring break show and found yourself hoping the sexy college girl with nice rack would get her face torn off by a motorboat propellor, this movie is for you. For everyone else, I recommend Mr Holland’s Opus, possibly the best Richard Dreyfuss film ever (better than Jaws? Perhaps…). It’s great.