When asked recently if I were interested in doing a First Aid course, I replied that I’d be more than happy to do as many courses as they liked but they mustn’t expect me to get anywhere near anyone who’s actually had the slightest scratch. I even gave myself a concussion once when someone showed me the splinter in their finger. Therefore, I hope you can now all realise what a risky business it was taking myself off to see Piranha 3D this evening. Of some things I could be sure in advance – it would feature fish, boobs and cheek (not to mention eyeballs) by the netload.
It did indeed. I should have realised that dialogue was not going to be a strong point when I sat in a cinema full of foreign language students who didn’t understand much English but who nevertheless retained a deep grasp of the plot. Yet, despite my fears and low squeamish tolerance point, I walked away from the theatre with a grin on my face, albeit feeling slightly nauseous and anti fish.
The story is straightforward and not 100% scientifically plausible. An earthquake causes the bottom of a Spring Break Lake to rip, leading to a tunnel linking the lake to another, even bigger subterranean lake below. Obviously sick and tired of three million years of cannibalistic confinement, the horrible piranhas break for the surface and proceed to wreak havoc. The heroine of the piece, in a Jaws reflection, is the sheriff, played by Elisabeth Shue, and she must not only protect (rather badly) the influx of youth to the lake resort, she has her own children, who are doing their very best to end up next on the menu, to worry about. One of these, Jake (played by Steven R McQueen), finds himself on a boat driven, also rather badly, by a porn crew, who want to find some scenic locations before heading off to judge a wet t-shirt competition.
Rather enjoyably, the characters of Piranha 3D have more depth than you might expect from fishfeed. So much so, you actually do care about their chances. And their chances are slim. The scale of slaughter in Piranha 3D is majestic and epic in scale. The amount of blood is only to be outdone by the number of limbs, eyeballs, lumps of unidentifiable flesh and exploding heads that parade in front of our (in my case, half-hidden) eyes. If the fish can’t inflict horrific damage on the holidaying youth, then boats and propellors make up for it. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film with quite as many bones in it as, for some unexplained reason, these mighty toothed fish only eat flesh. And eyeballs (did I mention the eyeballs?). One can only imagine the hilarity that went on in the makeup camper.
Fortunately, the fish do leave the beautiful sunworshippers alone long enough for said holiday makers and porn actors to engage in naked underwater synchronised swimming, topless parasailing, sexy drinking games and wet t-shirt competitions. There is a lot of (female) nudity and sometimes the piranha have an unfailing eye for where to bite first.
From the opening scene featuring that well known fish fighter of the silver screen Richard Dreyfuss you know that Piranha 3D is a film that you should let yourself enjoy. It makes no apologies for what it is. It revels in it. It doesn’t go half way, it goes the whole slog. When skimpy swimware is this cheap and you have that many CGI piranhas swimming around, nothing less than the full scale mass slaughter of umpteen lovelies in bikinis or wet t-shirts (or neither) will do.
The director Alexandra Aja gave me this can’t-look-away-however-much-I-want-to conflict before – when I saw his earlier film The Hills Have Eyes. But with Piranha 3D he’s gone that extra step by showing just how much fun he has had with it. Right til the end there are laughs to be had – even the piranha can crack a joke (they sometimes spit out what they can’t stomach). Some of the gory moments are so imaginatively horrible you’ll be laughing and shrieking at the same time. And to round it off we have a cameo from Christopher Lloyd that is worth its weight in gold.
At my local cinemas this film is only available in 3D and, while the 3D was bright, it did sometimes (for me) struggle to keep up with the action, occasionally giving the screen a watermark feeling or obvious layering. Yet the 3D is also used to help with some of the visual gags and obviously an exploding head will have more impact if the brains come at you in 3D. The fish are not perfect CGI creations, they’re a bit blurry and you never get a good look at an actual attack as it happens. On second thoughts, this may be a good thing. And also, what happened to the cameraman and the second diver into the chasm? Not everyone gets the death they deserve.
I would certainly recommend Piranha 3D – Jerry O’Connell is a joy as the porn producer and Brit Kelly Brook has some charm about her while the sheriff and her brood are certainly engaging (although I don’t understand why the sheriff would think you could shoot a school of piranha into submission). Just, for heaven’s sake, don’t risk it with a full stomach. You’ve got to leave room for some belly laughs.