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August 21, 2010

I Love Elisabeth Shue (Also, Piranha 3D)

(2010, Dir. by Alexandre Aja)

I totally love Elisabeth Shue.  Just sayin'.

Now that we're past that, let's talk about Piranha 3D (the on-screen title, thankfully, is just Piranha), the latest horror remake to hit the seas.  It's a film that's created to showcase the three things listed on the poster - Sea, Sex, and Blood - and it succeeds entirely in those regards.

This is most definitely not a straight remake of Joe Dante's 1978 film, as the government subplot has been replaced by a seismic event which opens an underwater lake full of carnivorous fish.  Also gone are the summer camp and children - replaced by Spring Break and crazy teens - and Bradford Dillman's impressive beard - replaced by Adam Scott's not so manly scruff.  Also added to the story are a thinly veiled Girls Gone Wild knock-off  (in fact, it's so thinly veiled that GGW creator Joe Francis might be suing the filmmakers) led by Jerry O'Connell and a team of models and pornstars turned "actresses"; a teen relationship featuring the unfortunately named Steven R. McQueen; and the female sheriff in charge played by my beloved Ms. Shue. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was the fact that the film, whose ad campaign focused so much energy on the amount of carnage that would occur, is much more restrained than I expected.  This might have to do with the fact that there are only so many ways you can have a pack of killer mutant fish attack partying imbeciles, but the film takes a lot of time setting up the situations characters are in before the "money shot" attack occurs at the Spring Break festivities.  An especially large amount of time is spent with McQueen's Jake and his love interest (Jessica Szohr) while they tag along with the Wild Wild Girls crew.  This allows for plenty of nudity (including an extended skinny dipping session that shows every bit of the exhibitionist gals), but seems a little like filler while we wait for the fish to feed.

When the blood does start to pour, it's pretty impressive.  The practical gore effects are extraordinary, and my jaw dropped during scenes when bloodied victims were being pulled out of the infested waters.  Exposed skin becomes a road map of bloody wounds, and it's easy to see that Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero - two of the true wizards of their craft - didn't cut any corners in making each victim a bloody spectacle.  The CGI used for the piranha isn't great, but also doesn't distract from the film much (though there is an unfortunately silly moment with a CGI penis that reeks of pre-pubescent humor). 

Piranha 3D might have a few more lulls than I hoped for - and the wonderful Ving Rhames is criminally underused - but it never seems dull.  The cast members each seem to show an understanding of what they're working with and offer fine performances that meet the film's needs.  Cameo appearances from Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd, and Eli Roth each add to the film's charm.  (Of course, Elisabeth Shue is by far the most charming part of the film.)

Despite its sensational reputation this far, I never felt like Piranha 3D lost focus on what it was trying to do as a cheesy bit of summer fun.  Aja and company didn't need to do much to make this idea work - it's basically a build up to one gigantic attack and a finale - but they kept things simple in plot and used their resources to add in the unique touches in gore and nudity that have built that reputation.  The result is a film that's ridiculous, yet refreshing; a film that it's easy for me to recommend to anyone who wants a gory good time.

Plus, it stars Elisabeth Shue.  And I love Elisabeth Shue.

5 comments:

Emily said...

Going to see it this week, cannot wait. It's got quite a few bad reviews from the newspapers here in the UK, I agree it's not supposed to be a serious movie it's just a light hearted piece of gorey fun. Excellent review!!

Planet of Terror said...

Seeing it today. Can't wait. I've always loved Ms. Shue. She needs to be in more films.

Emily said...

As you know, I agree 100%. Light-hearted fun. Shame about Ving Rhames and, I'd add, Dina Meyer. I got excited when I saw her in the credits but forgot she was in it until the end credits then couldn't even remember WHO she was in it! Ah well. The Dreyfuss and Lloyd cameos made me ecstatic.

The Mike said...

Thanks James and Emilys! I'm really glad to see that people are liking this one, it's a ton of fun!

The Movie Snob said...

Can't wait to see this,missed it opening week and had higher expectations for it at the box office. Even with the mayhem and gore and tits.