Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
September 2010

The fish that ate Lake Victoria

And now that all those people are dead, could 'Piranha,' please, take a bite out of 3D, too?

Piranha 3D
Dimension Films
Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay: Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg, based on a 1978 screenplay by John Sayles
Starring: Steven R. McQueen, Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook, Adam Scott and Christopher Lloyd
Rated R / 1 hour, 28 minutes
(out of four)

In a way, I'm glad that Piranha is in 3D. A movie like this brings with it such an intrinsic lack of credibility that to associate it with the dreadful 3D experience can only be a good thing. The fact that James Cameron is bemoaning the existence of Piranha 3D - insisting that such films cheapen and de-legitimize the supposed 3D revolution - fills me with joy.

Nevermind that the 3D in Piranha is only marginally less chintzy than that of Avatar - and exactly as unnecessary. I say Piranha is exactly the type of movie that should be promoted for its 3D-ness; if so, maybe we could accelerate the format's demise. Bring on more cheap B-movies in 3D! Keep 'em coming!

The funny thing is, Piranha isn't nearly as bad as we all naturally assumed it would be. Now, it's not necessarily good, either - but had I not been forced to see it in that "extra dimension," I probably would have been able to enjoy it a bit more.

The movie is basically a B-movie rehash of Jaws, complete with the sheriff/police chief of a touristy beach town dealing with a man-eating crisis during one of the biggest weeks of the year - the Roy Scheider role taken this time by the much more attractive Elisabeth Shue (who remains, despite all the film's hot twentysomethings, the hottest member of the cast).

(Well, maybe Kelly Brook gives her a run for her money . . .)

Anyway, Sheriff Forester is a single mom with three kids, led by 18-year-old Jake (Steven R. McQueen), who accidentally gets himself recruited by a Joe Francis type (Jerry O'Connell) to help scout locations for his newest series of Spring Break videos.

An army of very angry, giant piranhas - a species thought to be extinct, no less - has escaped from an underground crevasse on the lake floor after an earthquake, and is about to wreak havoc on this nice and quiet beach community. These silly-looking CGI piranhas will take no mercy on the inhabitants - mostly 18-to-22-year-old coeds - of Lake Victoria.

The abundance of piranhas in the film is equaled only by the abundance of breasts - which fortunately are not CGI. And naturally, along with many other body parts, some of these breasts get hilariously eaten. I suppose, if I were a piranha, that's probably where I'd start, too.

But I digress.

Piranha makes darn sure that its most important characters wind up on various different spots around the beach - and all discover in their own time exactly what it is they're up against. Jake is out on a boat with the sleazy Joe Francis-type; his younger brother and sister are on their own, of course (because small children have to be in the gravest of danger); and Mom is trying desperately to get everyone out of the water as quickly as possible.

Yeah, you try telling that to a bunch of drunk college kids. If they get eaten by piranhas, that's just survival of the fittest, no?

The best thing you can say about Piranha is that at least it knows what it is and what it isn't, and therefore strikes the right tone. That may seem like an easy thing to accomplish, but I've seen so many movies that had no idea how to approach their material - especially gory horror movies - that getting that detail right deserves some recognition.

The terrible acting of leading "man" Steven R. McQueen is counterbalanced by the amusingly over-the-top performance of O'Connell, who delivers the film's best line after one of its most satisfying moments.

But despite the satisfying moments Piranha does have, it's far too uneven to reach the level of a really strong horror-comedy. (And wasting Ving Rhames is always a crime in my book.) Still, if this movie does anything to de-legitimize the preponderance of 3D movies, it's OK in my book. If it can reach just one person, it will have done its job.

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