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Prior to defecting to Hollywood and hawking himself as a rehash hack, French expat Alejandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors) showed early promise as a peddler of terror with the savage femme survivalist slasher High Tension. There’s no trace of that film’s cardiac-throttling suspense to be found in Piranha 3D, Aja’s third horror remake in just four years. Rather, his latest retread – this time of the 1978 Jaws spoof that launched the solo career of Joe Dante – is a cartoon model of generic excess. There’s flesh-eating fish; Sam Raimi-style carnage; and busty, beach-bronzed babes who burst from the screen in hokily retrograded 3D. Trash is unabashedly the catch of the day, and Piranha 3D offers the movie equivalent of a late night Fillet-O-Fish.
It’s apt, considering the project’s pilfering pedigree, that things should open with a Jaws riff that will have genre junkies on-side from frame one. It’s a brisk manifesto of Aja’s approach to the whole: keep ‘em laughing and hope they don’t realise how crappy the thing really is. It’s enough to sustain 88 tawdry minutes in the company of an enthusiastic audience, but makes Piranha 3D an experience that will evaporate from memory the moment the house lights come up.
Heavy seismic activity has opened a primordial chasm beneath Lake Victoria, a spring break hot spot in an otherwise sleepy pocket of the American Midwest. Before you can plug cryptozoology into Google, the prehistoric predators are awakened, the party’s underway, and the feeding frenzy is set to commence.
And that’s all of the piece setting required. Plot and cast are noteworthy only for how noteworthy they’re not, and that’s just the way Aja wants it. After all, why clutter so perfectly absurd a set-up – nubile teens get minced by razor-fanged fish! – with such redundant trappings as drama and character? Actors – Elizabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames and Christopher Lloyd among them – were seemingly lured by the promise of a few breezy weeks in the sun and a spectacularly outlandish on-screen demise.
For those seeking the latter, Piranha 3D delivers. Extras and topliners alike are dispatched with wicked cruelty, the joke being that each kill is more savagely embellished than the last. Ever wished to see a disembodied penis spewed at the screen in three stomach-churning dimensions? Piranha 3D plugs that void. Not since Peter Jackson employed a lawnmower as a zombie deterrent has so much haemoglobin showered the screen to such willfully ridiculous ends.
But don’t be suckered by the (bafflingly) positive reception to Piranha 3D: despite possessing a maturity level on par with caviar, Braindead this gory romp ain’t. The best horror comedies notch their mark by having more than just blood and guts and T&A on their minds, as An American Werewolf in London and Shaun of the Dead attest. Given the nasty ends so many of his revellers meet, it could be argued that Aja is taking broad swipe at his core demographic (the tequila slamming, sex-crazed, party-like-tomorrow-is-our-parents’-problem set), but really, the scenes of en masse debauchery are likely to encourage far more post-movie blow-outs than the sight of that up-chucked member will quiet moments of self-reflection.
Thankfully, Piranha 3D makes no pretense to anything other than what it is: diverting, disposable trash. Don’t be surprised if the DVD arrives with nothing more than a blood-sopped pair of bikini-clad breasts on its cover.
Speaking of which, Aja does manage one sequence which might be enough to claw Piranha 3D into infamy: a riotously gratuitous, all-nude, girl-on-girl aquatic frolic set to the operatic strains of Delibes’ ‘The Flower Duet.’ Self-respecting connoisseurs of cinematic sex scenes will get a laugh as they identify the lesbian love theme from The Hunger in the film’s sliest and subtlest gag. Everyone else will be held rapt for sixty languidly elapsing seconds by the gentle billowing of 3D boobs.
DIRECTOR: Alejandre Aja
SCREENWRITERS: Pete Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg
CAST: Elizabeth Shue, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Steven R. McQueen, Kelly Brook, Jessica Szohr
RUN TIME: 88 minutes