Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Piranha (2010)

Most movies want to convince you that they are high quality pieces of work, worth your time and your money.  Not every movie has the same strengths, of course, but action movies, comedies, dramas, horror or whatever, they all want to be thought of as "good."  However, not every movie is going to be good, and filmmakers know that.  Every year, there are hundreds of B-movies made for nickels on the Hollywood dollar, some of which turn out to be surprise hits, but most are just crappy direct-to-DVD fodder.  Once in a while, though, an odd beast rears its head: the big budget B-movie.  Piranha (2010), or Piranha 3D, is one of these strange creations, following in the proud footsteps of Snakes On a Plane.  It has no pretension of being anything but a cheesy movie with ample nudity and gore, no apologies needed or asked for.  Oh, and you can take your "piranhas are native to South American rivers, not Arizona" and shove it, along with your "research has proved that piranhas are more nuisances than dangers."  Take that, science!  Here's a fun fact: this film was made for $24 million, which is more than it cost to make four of this year's Best Picture nominees, and twice what it took to make the Best Picture winner, The King's Speech.  Don't get angry, it will just give you nosebleeds.

It is Spring Break and the tourist town of Lake Victoria is overflowing with drunken co-eds.  The local sheriff, Julie Forrester (Elizabeth Shue), and her deputy, Fallon (Ving Rhames), are trying their best to keep the annual chaos to a manageable minimum.  Since this is such a busy week for Julie, she forces her college-age son, Jake (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of Steve McQueen), to baby-sit his younger brother and sister instead of partying.  That's too bad, too, because the girl he totally has the hots for, Kelly (Jessica Szohr), is back in town and is hanging out with a bunch of jerkwads.  Life is tough sometimes.  Jake stumbles into some luck, though; he casually meets Derrick (Jerry O'Connell), the man behind the Girls Gone Wild Wild Wild Girls video series, and Derrick needs a local to help him find all the right spots to shoot his softcore pornography.  Shrugging off his family duties, Jake joins up with Derrick, some hot Wild Wild Girls starlets, and Kelly (more on her later) as they cruise their yacht to somewhere a little more comfortable.  Little do they know that a earthquake the afternoon before opened a chasm at the bottom of Lake Victoria, connecting it to a previously unknown subterranean lake.  And that lake is populated exclusively by thousands of piranhas.  These aren't regular piranhas, though; these are a proto-piranha species, thought to have been extinct for over two million years.  Piranhas, meet Spring Break.  Spring Break, meet your gory doom.

A quick side note on Kelly's character.  She first shows up in the movie with a douchey boyfriend in tow, who (of course) picks on Jake for no reason.  She then runs into Jake as he is about to board the slut boat party yacht, and when Derrick sees Jake talking to her, he invites her to join them.  Derrick is obviously a sleazebag, and she has just commented on how lame the Wild Wild Girls thing is, so Jake tries to help her and tells Derrick that she has other plans.  This causes Kelly to board the ship out of spite.  Later, Derrick tries to pressure her into doing body shots with one of the starlets (on camera, of course) and Jake once again stands up for her; once again, she decides that she definitely wants to do whatever Jake wants to protect her from.  So, let that be a lesson, young men: defending the girl you have a crush on will inevitably turn her into an exhibitionist.  Fact.

It should come as no surprise that the acting in Piranha (2010) is not fabulous.  The cast is surprisingly noteworthy, though.  Elizabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd, Adam Scott, Paul Scheer, Ricardo Chavira and Jerry O'Connell all damage their reputations by working in this film.  I'll give the young actors a pass, because work is work, but those established actors should have known better.  The movie also has famous nude model Kelly Brook in a main role, as well as porn stars Riley Steele, Gianna Michaels, and Ashlynn Brooke in small (and, not surprisingly, boobtastic) parts.  I guess I shouldn't be so hard on the actors for being in this movie, really.  B-movies are meant to be silly and fun, for actors as well as audiences.  With that perspective, Jerry O'Connell and Adam Scott turned in shockingly competent/quality-appropriate performances, with Ving Rhames occasionally deciding to overact in between bouts of sleepwalking through scenes.  Shue plays everything pretty straight as the main character; personally, I think that was the wrong angle to take, but I've seen worse.  Eli Roth also had a decent small part, but he was definitely aware of the quality of the movie and his acting.
These piranhas are extra dangerous, because they look like humans!
I hesitate to say that anyone actually directed this movie, but Alexandre Aja took the credit for it.  His direction is absolutely wretched.  You know how ineffective horror movies like to kill time between their theoretically scary scenes by startling you?  Like when the main character walks into a room, hears something behind them, and they turn around while the music simultaneously gets suddenly loud --- and nothing's there.  This movie wishes it was that competent.  In one scene, after the piranhas are loose but before the characters realize it, Jake notices that the inflatable chair Kelly was sitting on just minutes before is now empty --- duh-duh-DUMMM; he calls her name, gets no response, and dives in to find her.  It turns out that she was apparently right behind him on the boat.  Huh.  In the very next scene, the camera shows an empty canoe, which had two children in it the last time we saw it duh-duh-DUMMM; the camera pans to the left a few feet and shows the kids on the shore.  If film directing could be described in Monopoly terms, Alexandre Aja is pure Baltic Avenue.
You tell 'em, Uncle Pennybags!
What made this movie so bad?  Let me list the ways:
  • CGI effects that were only marginally better than SyFy's (far more amusing) rip-off, Mega Piranha
  • The film was edited by "Baxter."  No last name needed
  • From a cause and effect standpoint, earthquakes cause piranhas
  • Okay, imagine you are a teenage boy, living at home and looking at porn on his computer.  Picture it clearly in your mind.  Now...did anyone imagine having their computer screen clearly visible from their doorway for Mom to see when she walks in?  Or did anyone leave the door unlocked?  Amateurs.
  • Stupid effing little kids
  • The first thing the Wild Wild Girls people know about Jake is that he is seventeen, and they invite him for a day of drinking, drugs, and slut banging?
  • Big breasted women can hold their breath for up to five minutes, as long as they are fondling each other underwater
  • Whenever the camera takes on an underwater POV perspective, it is always to fake you out.  Piranhas get their own special "piranha view" shots to let you know they are coming
  • Piranhas that have spent two million years in dark seclusion still have large eyes that can see
  • There is visible light in the subterranean lake
  • Most of the scenes from the previews are not in the final movie
  • ...and many more!
Nope.  Not in the movie.
Okay, fine.  It's easy to watch a movie that is intentionally stupid and list off its failures.  The challenge is in finding what made the movie work.  For starters, the body count is pretty big.  I counted at least twenty confirmed on-screen deaths, and that doesn't count three scenes that were full of presumed deaths.  There was some pretty good gratuitous nudity in the film, too, but not as much as you might expect from a Spring Break flick.  Besides, all the nudity came from people who take their clothes off professionally; I'm sure this movie is tame compared to their normal work.  But I'm being negative again, sorry.  There was a ton of gore, including smashed-in heads, ripped-off faces, limbs gnawed down to the bone, and even a CGI severed penis (that was eaten and then puked up by a piranha that was "experimenting").  While I didn't see the movie in 3D, I could tell some of the things that were meant for the third dimension, like chopped up fish parts and vomit.  The very last scene of the movie was actually pretty amusing, too.  Oh, and the proposed sequel has (and I'm not joking about this) the working title of Piranha 3DD --- which, I think we can all agree, is brilliant.

But, even when you factor all that in, this movie just isn't stupid enough to be awesome and fun.  Consider this: the best death in the whole movie (Eli Roth's) was not piranha-related.  The second-best death had a girl getting her hair caught in a propeller and getting her face ripped off, which was also not piranha-related.  Heck, most of the piranha attack victims looked like they had been scratched by a large cat or had acid spilled on them.  Silly me, I thought they were supposed to look like they had the flesh eaten off of their bodies.  The script was dumb, and some of the characters were campy, but --- and I can't believe that I'm writing this --- it needed to be so much dumber and campier to work for me.  This is stupid-bad, not so-bad-it's-good.  So, even though it was being deliberately bad, it wasn't bad enough to be enjoyable.  On the plus side, though, boobs and gore.

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