Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Piranha 3D (2010)

In my eager little gorehound heart, this summer belonged to one movie: Piranha 3D. I’d been squirming in my chair for nearly six months, just waiting for this gory mayhem to splatter across the screen. My Bloody Valentine 3D was one of the funnest movie experiences of my life, with a packed late-night audience yelping and shrieking as if on cue. Does Piranha 3D (henceforth P3D, because I’m a lazy shmuck) reach that pinnacle of blood-drenched eye-candy?

Yes. Yes it does.

Ah, spring break. The mid-semester oasis from the college rat race. A time to unwind, rest up before finals, and catch up on the hip new STDs you’ve been missing out on. It’s an essential part of the college experience, like Natty Ice, date rape, and Scarface posters; the perfect storm of raging hormones, cheap liquor, and bullshit ‘Carpe Diem” philosophy.

Where’s the ultimate spring break party spot? Tijuana? Ibiza? Anchorage? For several thousand vodka-fueled party animals, the answer is Lake Victoria, Arizona. Normally a sleepy little town, Lake Victoria is annually transformed into a writhing, booty-shaking primordial ooze of sex juice and vomit (from which I presume Ke$ha and Katy Perry first sprouted legs and crawled onto dry land).

But this year, things are going to be a little more interesting. As the drunken menace descends on Lake Victoria, a finned, razor-toothed one arises from her depths, hungry for tender, beer-marinaded human meat. Shaken from a watery tomb by an earthquake, schools of pre-historic super piranha make a beeline for the bikini buffet.

If you haven’t walked out yet, you’re gonna like what happens next!

Movies like P3D can succeed even with terrible actors (My Bloody Valentine 3D, for instance), so when the acting is good, it’s a special treat. P3D is loaded with special treats, including some we’ve seen before.

Elizabeth Shue plays the Lake Victoria’s sheriff, the sort of smart, confident, woman-in-a-man’s-world heroine. Despite the character familiarity, she’s very likeable in the role. Shue is one of those actresses that apparently everyone but me knows and loves. Of the films on her extensive filmography, I’ve only seen one (Karate Kid). But if she’s as cool and funny in all her films as she is here, I’ll definitely check out her other stuff.

Ving Rhames gets to flex his bad-ass-itude as Shue’s deputy. He’s…well…he’s Ving Rhames, hulking, growling, supremely intimidating. (If this guy had played the Michael Clarke Duncan role in The Green Mile, he’d probably cure Tom Hanks’ urinary problem by ripping his penis off.) Few actors look as cool brandishing a firearm. Not that that’s Rhames’ piranha repellent of choice—not when he can wield an out-board motor to get medieval on their fishy asses.

I have no idea who Jerry O’connell is, but he’s great as Derrick, the ultra-sleazy filmmaker shooting on-location for his porn site, Wild Wild Girls. His glass-bottomed yacht, originally a playground for his frolicking nudie cuties, becomes the OK Corral for the final showdown between man and fish. Charming, manipulative, self-centered, and endlessly misogynistic, O’connell plays this coke-snorting, Speedo-sporting horndog to perfection. He’s a lovable, despicable scumbag, and his demise is appropriately memorable.

If you salivate and twitch at the idea of a 3D killer piranha movie, you probably don’t care about the TV kids who play our young heroes (the sheriff’s son and his ex). You’re more interested in the cameos, specifically Christopher Plummer as a fish expert (and amateur paleo-ichthyologist!), and Richard Dreyfus reprising (for all of 2 minutes) his role of Hooper from Jaws. Of less note, Eli Roth hosts a wet-tshirt contest (I still prefer him cracking Nazi skulls with a baseball bat). And you smut-hounds will probably recognize a genuine porn actress or two among the mangled victims. (I thought that topless parasailor looked familiar!)

Speaking of which, it’s nudity time! P3D boasts more nudity than I’ve seen in an R-rated movie. (Let’s be honest, though. Ratings are a scam.) There’re boobs everywhere: big boobs, small boobs, perky naturals, and spherical fakes. There’s also a small selection of shaved lady-parts, if you’re into that. (If you don’t dig the pre-pubescent look, tough luck.) Every beach scene (before the feeding frenzy begins) is an undulating jungle of taut bellies, bouncing butts, and jiggling breasts—it’s like a longer, raunchier music video, awful music and all. For you classy cineastes, there’s even a nude underwater ballet interlude (I was whistling “Flower Duet” for days—and so will you!).

(With all this rump-shaking going one, I probably shouldn’t be kvetching about what said rumps are shaking to. But good lord, what is this GARBAGE! I’m sick of this electro-pop crap. It sounds like 1000 armor-clad bees having disco-themed orgy in an oil drum—with a little rapping thrown in. It’s 2010, people. Please stop copying “Satisfaction” by Benny Benassi. And that goes for you too, Benny Benassi.)

Oh, lord, the gore! The delirious, wonderful gore! This is gore done right, with the icky stuff rendered almost entirely in makeup and prosthetics, old-school practical style. Legendary makeup artist Greg Nicotero (Day of the Dead, Predator, Dances With Wolves, Hostel, etc. etc. etc.) wrangles the red stuff in P3D and the resulting carnage is downright gorgeous. On top of the expected water-borne flesh mangling (which looks exactly like you’d expect a real piranha attack would look like), we get scores of increasingly creative deaths. Obviously, lots of imagination and love went into this parade of evisceration. I won’t spoil any kills, but if you like to watch young people die in gruesome fashions, this is your movie.

Of course these herds of disposable bimbos and douchebags are clichés, but they’re clichés that college kids like me see every day. Ever see some vapid, orange-skinned ­­tramp, or a muscle-head jerk spewing ebonics and calling everyone “bro,” and just wonder how they’d look with their intestines hanging out? I know I have. Sometimes I want to see the bright young minds of tomorrow floating on the lake surface in a thin pink-red scum. If watching (fictional) college students die violently is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

The piranha themselves, as you’d expect, are CGI. How else could you produce thousands of lightning quick, flesh-ripping baddies? These are big spiny bastards, savage leftovers from the dinosaur days. Do they look realistic? No. Are they cool? Hell yeah.

I would have liked more real underwater cinematography, but hey, this is a 3D gorefest, not a David Attenborough film. What do you expect?

I had a blast at P3D. My only regret is that I didn’t see it with a packed movie-house crowd, screaming, cringing, and cheering. Movies like this are meant to be a group activity.
Here’s a caveat, though. Piranha 3D is a 3d movie, which makes it a little difficult to recommend. On the one hand, the 3D effects are the best I’ve seen since My Bloody Valentine 3D, despite being done in post. The textures and details aren’t always at the correct depth, but who cares when there’s flying fish guts and human viscera spraying all over you? Good as the effect are, though, I can’t say they’re worth the 3D surcharge. At my local multiplex, 3D is $4 extra, on top of an already criminal $7.50 (and that’s for matinees!).

James Cameron has accused Piranha 3D cheapening the 3D medium. (The nerve of this guy! As if Avatar wasn’t one of the most brainless, derivative, preachy movies of 2009.) But it obviously didn’t cheapen 3D. If it had, I wouldn’t need to shell out 4 bucks for some goofy Roy Orbison glasses. Shmucks like Cameron need to realize this: As long as there’s a 3D surcharge, 3D will still be just a gimmick.

P3D, to its benefit, uses 3D exactly as it should be used: as a gimmick, a toy, a way to poke audiences with stiff nipples and severed limbs. If you’ve got the dough, you should treat yourself to this. If you don’t, it’ll still be plenty fun to watch in 2D, at home.

See it before that last trip to the beach!

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