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Piranha

a film by Alexandre Aja

Hey, so what's not to love about a buttload-and-a-half of seriously pissed-off, CGI-generated, giant-ass mutant prehistoric Piranha from the very bowels of the earth going all feeding-frenzy crazy on not only the cast of Girls Gone Wild (or a close, non-libel facsimile thereof) but on a spring break cast of thousands as well!? Well, quite a bit actually, but isn't that part of the charm?

Alexandre Aja's valiant remake of the 1978 Joe Dante vehicle (a fun, but ultimately forgettable film in its own right) does get off to a good start. One's expectations certainly are piqued when we first see Richard Dreyfuss, sitting on his boat in a secluded lake, wearing what seems to be his wardrobe from Jaws and singing along to "Show Me the Way to Go Home" (which by the way, for those of you playing along at home, was the song he and costars Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw were drunkenly crooning juts before all hell broke loose in Jaws) when an underground tremor lets loose and an ugly horde of the titular 3D beasties converge on the poor old sod's fishing boat and end the academy award winning actor's cameo but quick.

On further inspection, one notices that Dreyfuss is indeed playing the very same Matt Hooper of Jaws fame (a fact that this apparently rather unobservant critic completely overlooked until reading the cast list the next day) and thus film history is playing upon itself as the starting reference point for this remake is the mother of all sea-faring monster movies, which in turn was the obvious inspiration (some might say ripping off point) for the original Piranha, which in turn is the quite obvious inspiration for this movie and so on and so on and so on until we are swept into a bloody vortex of ever-circling, flesh-eating monstrosities - and who doesn't love that.

Unfortunately, after this high water mark (sorry, I couldn't resist), the film quickly devolves into some sort of sad attempt at exploiting grindhouse sensibilities for supposed artistic merit - something the Frenchman Aja (born a mere four days after the original's release) did in spades with his 2003 batshitcrazy slasher brouhaha Haute Tension. Acting rather immaturely (as I suppose its core audience of fifteen year olds with enough facial hair to get past the R-rating do) the movie forgets to be everything it could be but is indeed something more than it probably should be. Never showing quite enough of the chutzpah needed to pull off such a feat as Aja did with Haute Tension, and sorely lackluster and quite rushed when it needs to be dynamic and drawn-out, Piranha 3D (the 3D addendum never actually appears on the film's credits, but is merely a way to differentiate it from the Dante-directed original) does try to make the most of what it does have. Which I suppose it does for the most part.

What it does have (for better or for worse - you make the call) is a veritable who's-who of whatever-became ofs. This cast, once one gets past the nobody leads, includes one-time Oscar nominee Elizabeth Shue as the still kinda sexy sheriff (this film's worrisome Brody I suppose) and Pulp Fiction and Dawn of the Dead badass Ving Rhames as Shue's underused deputy - both doing obvious paycheck work here. There is also Jerry O'Connell (once the fat kid from Stand By Me and then the hot bod of many a forgettable TV show of the new millennium) as a sleazy porn profiteer who ends up losing the one thing such a person can not bear losing. Also making quick appearances are Eli Roth as a wet T-shirt contest master of ceremonies (this time, the Bear Jew is on the other end of the scalping party - and big time) and Christopher Lloyd, who seems to be in the film for no other reason than apparent shits 'n' giggles - and to pretend he's Doc Brown once again.

Yet, even with these thespianic heavyweights (he said tongue firmly in cheek) the movie never makes one care about any of its ill-fated inhabitants. Who cares who gets devoured and who doesn't. Filled to the veritable brim with a T&A bacchanalia of disposable extra actors galore, Aja's uber-bloody, fresh-water romp does come up with enough requisite what-the-fuck moments that make a film such as this work but when all is said and done (which is in an unnecessarily short 88 minutes) - we just don't care. But then I suppose character depth is not what one looks for in a film such as this and one should not gripe too loudly when one doesn't get it. One looks for spectacle and one expects to get spectacle - even at the expense of everything else. Which brings us to the 3D element of the movie - and let's face it, isn't that what it's all about?

No matter what the bellwether pundits say, the 3D boom is a mere technological glitch in the moviemaking world and in no way enhances that thing we call cinema. Taking away depth-of-field and putting an end to any real kind of cinematography, the idea of 3D is no way for a proper film to act. Movies of a so-called higher calling, which I suppose the mediocre (but high-minded) Avatar and Tim Burton's disastrous Alice in Wonderland are meant to be, should not need the so-called aid of three-dimensionality to flesh out their imperfections. On the other hand, what 3D does work for is that aforementioned spectacle - as it did for last year's My Bloody Valentine 3D and as it does (for the most part) for Piranha 3D.

Perhaps it doesn't work in Piranha 3D to the extent it should have or could have (the idea of blood-drenched 3D-jiggled boobies, motorboating the audience - or being motorboated by - is boon enough for any energetic grindhouse-inspired auteur - and Haute Tension, one of the best horror films of the last twenty years, proves that Aja is indeed such an auteur) and thus a lot of great, albeit it cheesily so, moments are left hanging out to dry. But then again, the corny dialogue, cheesy special effects, silly plot through lines and zealous overacting (O'Connell especially partakes of the latter!) are what makes a film such as Piranha (3D or not!) work., And hey, what's not to love about a severed 3D penis being half-devoured and regurgitated right in front of an audiences nose? Well, quite a bit actually, but isn't that part of the charm? Hell, isn't that all the charm? [08/25/10]

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