B-movie bingo 

click to enlarge piranha-3d-review.jpg

Alexandre Aja, best known for his schlock-genre remakes ("The Hills Have Eyes"), delivers a totally un-eco-political update of the 1978 B-movie "Piranha" in this summer's gorefest, "Piranha 3D." Set on the lovely and vast Lake Victoria during spring break, the film circles around a single-mother sheriff (Elisabeth Shue), who attempts to save the tourists and her lakefront community after an underwater earthquake releases a hyper-Darwinized breed of ravenous uber-piranha into the waters.

It used to be that genre pictures didn't have to be so referential to make themselves fun (or make fun of themselves), but evidently our post-aughts sense of self-importance prohibits the audience from just enjoying good trash without heavy social commentary or enough winking cameos for us to remember that what we're seeing is an homage, not necessarily a stand-alone work of art.

That said, the cast is one of the more delightful aspects of "Piranha," even if at times some of the casting choices push it. For instance, was Richard Dreyfuss really needed to reprise his schlubby "Jaws" role? Was Christopher Lloyd really required to phone in his trademark incredulity as the local wildlife expert? Ving Rhames, one of the last brilliant echoes of good genre-flick character actors, exits the film basically unused. New gore king Eli Roth ("Hostel"), however, takes an amusing turn as a shock-jock DJ hosting a wet T-shirt contest that ends, of course, in infamy. And America's latest geek boyfriend, Adam Scott ("Party Down," "Parks and Recreation"), enlists himself adorably as an underplayed, straight man scientist, enjoying a shotgun-and-Jet Ski action scene in as much open-shirted glory as he'll probably ever be allowed.

Coupled with the vom-worthy content, the 3D effects make up for what is really just sub-par CGI animation. It becomes apparent early in the film that most of the budget was probably devoted to boob-acquisition. There are soooo many boobs in this movie. 3D boobs. Parasailing boobs. Aquatic-ballet boobs that would make Esther Williams turn in her grave, you know, if she were dead.

But one of the delights of 3D is that the underwater sequences are filmed as gorgeously as the T&A. Before everyone's guts start spilling out and the water turns crimson, there are moments that make you feel as if you were at an IMAX movie about subterranean caves.

All of the standard-issue genre tropes apply. Elizabeth Shue's loser-virginal teen son, Jake, and his cute-virginal teen girlfriend, Kelly, get to survive, despite being lured onto the yacht of a smarmy Jerry O'Connell over-parodying Joe Francis of "Girls Gone Wild." The unbridled depravity of the booty-shaking, motor-boating spring-breakers precedes a 20-minute pageant of innovative and flesh-quivering violence. And, of course, our likable Madonna-figure, the sexless-but-sexy Elizabeth Shue, surfaces as the true heroine.

So, "Piranhas 3D" isn't saying anything. It's not doing any new work regarding sexual politics. A character's level of douchebaggery is reciprocated with a deservedly gory death sequence. Women are this way or that way. Children and virgins are safe, but pretty much nobody else is. And despite a few minor "Hey, pick up your litter!" moments, the movie dodges what would be obvious opportunities for sneaky environmental commentary.

Still, it's hilarious. And genre aficionados will find something worth beholding. Even if it's far too derivative to become the B-flick for the ages, there's something to love about a movie this self-consciously awful.

Natalie Elliott


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