CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PIRANHA 3D
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: a peaceful dock on the water. L.L SOARES sits at the end of the dock, his feet dangling in the water, holding a fishing pole. MICHAEL ARRUDA walks down to him)
MA: You’re actually using a fishing pole? I thought you used your teeth.
LS: The pole’s just for show.
(LS dives into water. MA looks on as there is thrashing and splashing, and the water turns blood red. LS resurfaces with a half-eaten fish dangling from his mouth, and climbs back onto the dock, covered in blood.)
MA: That’s a lot of blood for one fish.
LS: One fish? I snacked on an entire school of fish, baby! I was hungry!
MA: You’re a regular human piranha. Speaking of piranhas—-.
LS: We’re reviewing PIRANHA 3D!! I’ll start this one.
MA: You might want to brush your teeth first.
LS (swallows half-eaten fish): Nah, I’m good. PIRANHA 3D is a simple enough tale. One day an underwater earthquake opens up a fissure at the bottom of the ocean, unleashing prehistoric piranha fish from their subterranean home. When this first happens, we’re treated to a brief appearance by Richard Dreyfuss as a grumpy old fisherman who gets caught up in a maelstrom. His presence at the beginning is an obvious homage to the king of all monster fish movies, JAWS (1975).
MA: Yes, Dreyfuss’s cameo was certainly one of the film’s highlights. In fact, it’s probably the best thing going for this ding dong of a movie. Not only does Dreyfuss make an appearance, but while on his boat he’s singing the same song he, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw sang on the Orca in JAWS, “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” He also says some of the same lines he said in JAWS, like “Fast fish!” And, finally, his character’s name is Matt, an obvious reference to his Matt Hooper character in JAWS. Very creative, about the only thing creative in this movie!
LS: Oh come on! The first scene is fun, but it’s just an appetizer for what follows.
Okay, so the piranhas make a beeline for Lake Victoria, where thousands of college kids are celebrating the festival of debauchery that is Spring Break. Sheriff Julie Forester (Elizabeth Shue) has to decide whether to close down the festivities (Spring Break is how this town makes it money) when she finds out about the killer fish.
MA: Gee, where have I heard this plot point before?
LS: No one said this was going to be original!
MA: It would have helped.
LS: Another main character is her son, Jake (Steven R. McQueen), who has been given the job of babysitting his young siblings, when what he really wants to do is join in on the Spring Break shenanigans. There’s also the girl he has a mad crush on, Kelly (Jessica Szohr). Things get complicated when Jake runs into Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell), a Joe Francis wannabe looking for a local guide to show him some hot spots to film his nudie films.
MA: Joe Francis from GIRLS GONE WILD?
LS: Yes, Francis is the guy behind all those GIRLS GONE WILD videos. Except here, Derrick Jones runs something called “Wild Wild Girls.” And he brings two hot chicks (brunette bombshell Kelly Brook and blonde porn star Riley Steele) out to the middle of the ocean to get naked. Jake agrees to go along as their guide, and Jones convinces Kelly to tag along, hoping to get her naked, too (There’s a good possibility, since the ship they’re on is flowing with champagne and tequila).
MA: Yes, most of this movie plays like a GIRLS GONE WILD video. So, I suppose, if that’s what you’re looking for, go see PIRANHA 3D.
LS: Yeah, a GIRLS GONE WILD video if you put it in a blender!
MA: Exactly! Which is something I don’t want to see.
(THE LOCH NESS MONSTER lifts his head out of the water)
NESSIE: Did you say GIRLS GONE WILD? I’d like to see that. I’m rather fond of boobies.
MA: Who isn’t? I’m just saying they shouldn’t be the centerpiece of a horror movie!
NESSIE: Why not?
MA: Listen, you silly serpent. What do you know about movies?
LS: He seems to know more than you.
(NESSIE goes back under water.)
Jake’s young brother and sister row out to a small island where they get stranded. They’re supposed to be staying home, staying out of trouble, while Jake is away, so their mother doesn’t know they’re home alone. From this point on, it’s basically a game of chance, as we wait to see who lives and who dies when the monster fish finally attack. Not only that, but it’s all in 3D!
MA: Which is another reason not to see this movie. Because it’s in 3D, it costs more than your usual ticket price. The 3D effects are definitely not worth it here. While there are some shots that take advantage of the 3D and show some neat depth perception, for the most part, it’s wasted. And I thought the piranha special effects were awful! The fish looked fake, cartoonish and anything but scary.
LS: Okay, so the piranhas look a little cartoony. I’ll give you that.
MA: A little cartoony? They look horrible! They’re about as authentic-looking as that fish on the wall in those McDonalds Filet of Fish commercials! Give me a break!
LS (sings): Give me that Fillet-O-Fish. Give me that fish!
(Suddenly a school of piranha leap out of the water singing the chorus to that commercial ditty.)
MA (applauds): What can I say? I like this song!
(RONALD MCDONALD swims by the dock, being pursued by a huge shark fin)
LS: At one point, Sheriff Shue is able to capture one of the fish alive and bring it to the local aquarium store guy, Mr. Goodman (played by Christopher Lloyd as yet another doddering old professor type), who identifies the critter as not just a piranha, but a prehistoric precursor – the first piranha ever – animals that supposedly have not lived on this planet for two million years!
The plot is simplistic enough. The acting is okay, for the most part. But the two main reasons to see this movie, aside from the 3D effects, are boobs and blood. This movie has plenty of both.
MA: I figured you’d enjoy the nudity. Sure, there’s plenty of naked flesh to go around. Trouble is, that’s not why I paid the big bucks to see PIRANHA 3D. Plus, in a movie like this, you know you’re going to see all those wonderful nude bodies bloodied up and disfigured eventually, and that’s not my idea of fun.
LS: What a killjoy!
MA: Sure, there are some great-looking bodies in this movie, but this eye candy in and of itself doesn’t come close to saving this shipwreck of a film.
And I found the blood and gore in this one on the tasteless side. That one huge bloodbath scene, the centerpiece of this movie, where the piranhas feast on all the frightened swimmers, goes on way too long and relies only on shock rather than suspense. This scene bored me. Plus it bordered on stupidity. I mean, you have police officers firing rifles into the water teeming with people. Not that realistic.
LS: Yeah, what was up with that? Shooting fish with guns! That’s pretty stupid.
MA: I’m surprised you didn’t like that.
LS: Come on now. Why use a gun when you can use your teeth? (Smiles to reveal his blood-stained teeth.) And what about the wonderful array of graphic wounds and flowing blood?! That certainly made the movie enjoyable for me. They didn’t skimp on the gross make-up effects or the fake blood—it’s all over the place. And lots of people get parts of themselves chewed off.
MA: This movie stank, and the non-stop graphic wounds and mutilations are a major reason why. And you said it when you said “fake blood.” The special effects in this one were horrible. So, not only are we forced to watch an endless array of tasteless mutilations, we have to watch lousy special effects to boot!
LS: Did we see the same movie? Because I really dug this one.
MA: I wanted to like this one, but I have to tell you, within the first few minutes I noticed that the special effects didn’t look so hot, and from there it was just one thing after another.
(SIGMUND from SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS—a kids’ TV series from 1973-1975—scurries across the dock. He looks like a big pile of tentacles and seaweed, with a funny face.)
SIGMUND: Johnny, Johnny! Oh my gosh, where’s Johnny?
MA: He’s looking for his old pal, Johnny Whitaker. Do you think he’s still alive?
LS: Who cares. Johnny’s not here, you little mush-head.
SIGMUND: I know he’s not here. I just came by to do this. (shouts) CHUM BUCKET!
(SIGMUND swings a bucket, splashing them with blood and fish heads)
MA: What the—?
LS: (wipes himself off and licks his fingers): Thanks for the snacks….mush-head!
(SIGMUND laughs and runs away)
LS: Where was I? Oh yeah. And don’t forget the extended scene where the two “Wild Wild Girls” go diving naked and perform an elegant underwater ballet together, and with the 3D you almost feel like you can reach out and touch them.
MA: That scene made me laugh. Sure, the two girls here are beautiful, but I kept thinking, don’t they need to come up for air? They’re down there underwater without breathing apparatus forever! And I didn’t think the 3D effects added anything to this scene.
LS: Psst. I think that scene was supposed to be funny. Sexy, too.
PIRANHA 3D was directed by Alexandre Aja, who also gave us the remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006), which I enjoyed a lot, as well as HIGH TENSION (HAUTE TENSION, 2003) and MIRRORS (2008).He’s never been one for originality, which continues here (PIRANHA 3D is a remake of the 1978 Joe Dante film PIRANHA). The original had a fun script by John Sayles. The new film, written by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg isn’t as smart, but it does give us plenty of what made 70s splatter movies so good. Plenty of girls and gore.
MA: I was extremely disappointed with the direction by Aja. He gave us one suspenseful scene in this movie, the scene where the underwater divers explore the mysterious cave for the first time. In a film full of bloody piranha attacks,this was the only scene that even came close to being frightening.
LS: Really, I thought the cave exploration scenes went on too long, and were kinda boring. And when they finally reach the prehistoric lake beneath the ocean, it’s a disappointment. Where’s all the other prehistoric sea life? All there are are tons of piranha eggs. I guess they ate up all the other animals. But don’t they have any predators that eat them?
MA: I found the main bloodbath scene in the movie—where the piranhas attack all the swimmers—boring, and while the final scene generated a little bit of suspense, it fell way too flat.
LS: I dunno. I liked it.
MA: A red flag was raised immediately when I saw that screenwriters Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg had written the screenplay. These two guys also wrote SORORITY ROW (2009) which we reviewed earlier this year. SORORITY ROW was probably the worst movie I’ve seen this year, which means that Goldfinger and Stolberg have now achieved special status in my book, because now they’re responsible for writing two of the worst movies I’ve seen this year. PIRANHA 3D is horrible. It’s interesting that both their scripts for SORORITY ROW and PIRANHA 3D were obsessed with sex and extremely shallow in terms of anything else.
LS If I have one complaint, it’s about Steven R. McQueen as Jake. Boy, did I hate this character! He’s one of these bland goody-goody guys who lacks a discernable personality, and the movie focuses on him way too much. Are we supposed to identify with this uptight jerk who needs to take the stick out of his ass? I didn’t.
And I his young siblings were irritating as hell, the way they get stranded on an island and put themselves in jeopardy. Every time they showed those dumb kids, I kept hoping they’d get chewed to bits.
MA: This is so much fun today! Guess who was my favorite character? You got it, Jake, played by Steven R. McQueen. By far, I thought McQueen, the grandson of film legend Steve McQueen, delivered the best performance in the movie. I liked his character, and I wasn’t turned off at all by his goody-goody persona. He could have been Clark Kent’s brother on SMALLVILLE.
LS: Yeah, if Clark Kent’s brother was made out of wood. Steven sure didn’t inherit any acting chops from his granddad. And Elizabeth Shue is okay as the sheriff, even if she never does get in touch with her “wild” side. She‘s a little too matronly here.
MA: I like Elizabeth Shue a lot, but I wasn’t all that impressed by her performance in this movie. There were times when she seemed to be just going through the motions. To me, she didn’t turn it on until the end of the movie, when she has to rescue her family. Before that, she hadn’t really lit any sparks.
LS: I agree. Like her son, she’s boring. But at least Shue has some acting talent.
Ving Rhames is okay as her deputy, but he’s not given an awful lot to do. And director Eli Roth (the HOSTEL movies) shows up as a radio DJ who hosts a wet T-shirt contest.
I actually liked Jerry O’Connell’s character, even if he is pretty sleazy (at least he had a personality) and the two girls he brings along for the film shoot are real easy on the eyes (especially during their underwater “dance”).
MA: I have to admit, O’Connell did a good job with the role, but I hated the character, so I didn’t really enjoy watching him. And I thought he was a little clichéd.
LS: And Jake wasn’t clichéd? How many goody-two-shoes teens have we seen in these movies, playing the hero? He’s much more of a cliché than O’Donnell’s character is. How about a teen hero who isn’t an uptight virgin?
MA: I don’t think he came off as uptight. I think he was just reacting to the sleaziness of Jerry O’Connell’s character. And no, Jake wasn’t as clichéd. We see him act recklessly when he leaves his young sibling alone, we see him act heroic and we see him frightened. Jones we just see obsessed with filming and being a jerk.
LS: Less of Shue’s dumb kids (including Jake) would have made this movie better. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded if Jake’s girlfriend Kelly had been the main character instead of him. She seems a lot more interesting. And even though she’s sort of uptight, too, at least she has a likable personality.
The 3D effects work better here than they did in something like CLASH OF THE TITANS, which just looked muddy. There are long stretches where the 3D doesn’t do a whole lot, but every once in awhile there’s a “jump in your seat” moment that makes it worthwhile. However, there is no way 3D movies are worth the extra price. Where I am, I had to pay $14.50 for a movie ticket that’s normally $11.50. And why can’t I just recycle the 3D glasses I still had from CLASH OF THE TITANS and AVATAR, and save some cash?
MA: I agree that it’s not worth the extra price, and while I also agree that the 3D here did look better than CLASH OF THE TITANS, it did so to me because there was better scenery—the ocean, the beach, the bodies—but this had less to do with the 3D than the principal photography.
LS: Okay. You’re not going to get tons of great 3D scenes here. Just a few. But it’s not that bad. I just didn’t think it was worth the extra ticket price, that’s all.
I liked this movie and I liked the way it was a throwback to the wilder days of the 1970s. I also really liked the bloody free-for-all scene in this movie. It’s the most gore I’ve seen onscreen in a long time. Between that and the naked underwater dance, I give this movie three knives.
MA: I didn’t like this movie at all. In fact, it’s one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year.
LS: Are you forgetting the TWILIGHT movies?
MA: I’m desperately trying to!
The direction here is weak, as Alexandre Aja’s idea of something scary is having a girl’s scalp torn off by a motor boat propeller. The script is juvenile and pointless, with more emphasis on its GIRLS GONE WILD storyline than the piranhas. The special effects and the 3D effects are both subpar, and yet you have to shell out extra bucks to see this movie! Don’t do it. Don’t waste your money on this poor horror effort.
PIRANHA 3D has weak writing, mindless direction, tepid special effects and a misguided emphasis on bloody mutilations and abundant nudity, two things that can contribute to a good horror film, but shouldn’t be its main focus. Isn’t that what the piranhas are supposed to be? The main focus of this movie? But they’re not. They’re just an excuse to get people into the theater to see this movie, which should be titled GIRLS GONE BLOODY WILD.
LS: Hmmm. I dunno. I’d pay to see a movie called GIRLS GONE BLOODY WILD.
MA: Well, I give PIRANHA 3D a big fat zero knives. Skip this one and go fishing instead!
LS:. Fishing! I forgot about that. Time for dessert!
(LS dives back into the water. Soon afterwards, the water runs red)
MA: Looks like he caught something. Well, until next time, this is the Cinema Knife Fight guys saying; enjoy the rest of the summer!
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives PIRANHA 3D – ZERO KNIVES!
L.L. Soares gives PIRANHA 3D - THREE KNIVES!