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Piranha (2010)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

PIRANHA (2010)

Starring: Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Steven R. McQueen, Jerry O'Connell, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss

Written By: Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg Directed By: Alexandre Aja

The Short Version

It’s a remake off a semi-spoof knockoff… and it is awesome!

Forget restraint; Piranha just goes for it.

This is a movie that knows its audience and delivers the goods in fun, over the top style.

Is Piranha flawed?  Sure.  Do we care?  Hell, no!

Grab yourself some beer and get ready to party with Piranha!

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

GOLDFISH CRACKERS.

Those yummy, cheesy crackers that you can’t help but snack on by the school.


Pairs Well With...

AMSTEL LIGHT.

Since there’s no such thing as Amity beer, I’m going with the beer I was drinking when I first saw this in the theatre.  Hooray for movie theatres that serve alcohol!

“Nice horn.”

“Thanks.  Nice boobs.”

“Thanks.”


When I walked into the theatre to see Piranha, I wasn’t expecting much.  To be honest, I was expecting crap.  But hey, I’m a sucker for creature flicks, so I figured what the hell, right?  Besides, it’s not like there was anything else good playing at the time.  And so I bought my ticket, got myself a beer at the concession stand (I love that theatre!), put on my Gimmick Glasses, and waited for the screen to cough up some cheez.

There’s really only one sentence that can properly convey what I was feeling after I left the theatre that night, and that sentence is as follows:

Holy shit, that was awesome!

Piranha is a movie without pretense.  It knows that it’s a cheap exploitation flick that’s a remake of another cheap exploitation flick that was a rip off of The Movie That Changed Everything.  It pretends to be nothing else, and it makes no apologies for what it is.  Indeed, it revels in its inherent cheesiness.  This is a movie that looks deep into the hearts of the types of moviegoers likely to spend money on a ticket for itself, sees what those viewers want, and actually gives it to them. In buckets.  Blood!  Boobs!  Gore!  Richard Dreyfuss!  Boobs!  Doc Brown!  More blood!  A severed dic-

What?

Why yes, the piranha do in fact bite a guy’s plumbing clean off, then have a tug of war with it, and then the one that wins ends up burping it back up.  If you happen to see it in 3D, you’re likely to conclude that it’s probably the most disturbing 3D effect ever.  And it’s funny as hell.  (Though, at about a 1:1,000,000 ratio between that and boobs in this flick, it’s still not even close to equal time. Not that you were expecting differently, I imagine.)

If the above sounds funny to you, and the brea- er, rest sounds appealing, then you really don’t need to know much else.  Piranha is flick for you.  It’s an unapologetic frat party that demands nothing more than for you to grab a cold one before you press “play.”

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for some kind of “serious horror film” or “thriller” that doesn’t “pander to heathens,” then I suggest that you look at the title again, remind yourself where this movie came from in the first place, and just go run along to the boring beige room that you came from and have yourself a nice cup of Pride & Prejudice or something.

For those of you still in the room who care about the plot anyway, here goes.  We start with one of the most awesome cameos of all time in the form of Richard Dreyfuss doing a very obvious sendup of his character from Jaws, right down to the wardrobe.  He’s even singing the same drunken shanty, and if you don’t get why “Amity Beer” is a funny thing for him to be drinking, you really need to go back and see Jaws again.  (That much is worth your time in any case.)  Anyway, a small earthquake occurs while our friend is on his little fishing trip, and that earthquake happens to open a passage between the lake he’s on – Lake Victoria – and a separate underground lake that’s been sealed off from the surface for ages.  Unfortunately, that underground lake also happens to be the home of a particularly nasty species of prehistoric piranha, and as soon as they get free of their ages-old prison, the first thing they do is turn poor Mr. Dreyfuss into an early lunch.

After the credits roll, we learn that Lake Victoria is situated right next door to an Arizona town of the same name that’s a major Spring Break haven… and that today happens to be the start of Spring Break.  This means that the local sheriff, Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue, The Saint), already has her hands full with tourists; now she’s also saddled with a team of government geologists that wants to inspect the quake damage beneath the lake.  Meanwhile, her mama’s boy son, Jake, (Steven R. McQueen, “The Vampire Diaries”), is finding his own trouble after accepting an invite to serve as the local guide for the “Wild Wild Girls” crew, which is exactly the sort of outfit that the name suggests.  (Namely, a spoof on “Girls Gone Wild.”)

Pop quiz: Do you think that the newly released prehistoric piranha school is going to leave either of these groups alone, or the gigantic throng of tourists gathered by the shore for the town’s annual wet t-shirt contest, for that matter?  Yeah, thought so…

Wow.  What a party. A lowest common denominator party, sure, but there's room for those every so often.

If Piranha pulls any punches anywhere, it’s solely for budgetary purposes.  The blood and gore in this movie get to be pretty intense and extreme, and there’s more nudity in Piranha than you’ll find in a lot of softcore titles.  (Indeed, two hardcore porn actresses have extended cameos here, though the director was savvy enough to ask them to do nothing more complicated than show off their goods and scream.)  Frankly, I’m amazed that it was able to fetch an “R” rating, especially after the 3D penis.  (Not that I’m complaining about the rating in the least, mind you.  It’s refreshing to see the stuffed shirts not acting so stuffy for once.)  What that in mind, let’s see what the “R” rating buys us, shall we?

I’ll start with what surprises me most, and that’s the gore.  There is a ton of really nasty gore.  Aside from the aforementioned tug of war, one highlight shot features a piranha actually gnawing its way out of a person’s mouth from inside of her body and bursting through, exploding her head in the process.  Another features two men trying to carry a woman to shore – one man at her shoulders and the other at her feet – when she simply breaks in half and her guts spill onto the sand.  A topless woman is diagonally bisected, and her one-breasted torso drops into the water while the rest of her stays on the boat.  Flesh is quickly rendered to the point where victims look like discarded Bodyworlds exhibits.  Limbs and viscera randomly appear everywhere.  The Deputy played by Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction) picks up an outboard motor and uses it as a fish chopper.  A less noble jerk cranks up an outboard motor while a woman’s hair is caught in it, pulling not only her hair but all of the flesh from her skull.  Hell, the effects crew went through 75,000 gallons of fake blood every single day, and that’s before the CG effects are added in.  I imagine the directors of many a Friday the 13th style flick looking at Piranha and going “what the hell?”, knowing how heavily they were forced to cut their own movies for far less.

It took a second viewing, but I think I figured out the secret, and again, I was surprised, because what normally kills movies like this is probably what helped to save it.  Specifically, I think Piranha gets away with so much gore because so much of it is computer generated, and the effects are just cartoonish enough to carry the subconscious label of “fake.”  The quality of the effects is damn good, mind you, but let’s face it: if you can’t tell CG gore from the real thing, it’s time for you to visit the optometrist.  In straight horror, this would suck, but Piranha is a cheap exploitation knockoff of a cheap exploitation spoof, and everyone, including both the film’s crew and the audience at home, knows it.  Nobody in his or her right mind is taking this seriously.  And long as the CG is halfway decent – which it is, both for the gore and for the fish themselves (thankfully, there are no tentacles involved) – audiences who normally hate the stuff are more willing to allow some latitude in a flick like this, which in turn allows said audience to have fun with the over the top carnage while the censors can tell themselves that it looks fake enough to let past with an “R.”

Neat trick, huh?

Of course, those audiences are also more willing to forgive the CG fakery because of the vast number of boobs present – in extra dimensions, if you have your Gimmick Glasses on – which themselves have varying degrees of realism that the average viewer of a flick like this just doesn’t give a shit about as long as they’re visible.  Indeed, it’s not just the boobs; there are several full frontal and rear shots, as well, and we’re not just talking quick flashes, either.  (Nude underwater ballet, anyone?  Nude paragliding, perhaps?)  The amount of nudity is frankly staggering for something that not only made it to the big screen, but did so with an “R.”  Again, many softcore titles don’t approach this kind of skin.  But – or butt, for that matter – when all is said and done, it’s just a peep show.  There’s no sex, and there’s not even any vaguely intense making out.  The closest you get is a body shot sequence with a less-than-intense girl-to-girl kiss at the end of it.  That’s it.  (Yes, that is the “sexual content.”)  So yeah, there is a whole lot to look at, and it’s pervasive throughout the entire film, but nobody’s really touching.  Just as I think the CG effects saved the gore (and the usually automatic NC-17-generating penis, which is also CG) from the censor’s wrath , so too do I think that the lack of actual sexual contact saved the nudity. 

If you got to see Piranha in a theatre, that, too, is a neat trick.

And since I know that some of you are wondering, no, Elisabeth Shue does not participate in the flash fest, though she does look quite good in a tank top, and no, you can’t see through it.  With that said, despite her technically low billing, a whole lot of guys looked up Kelly Brook (Survival Island) on the net right after this flick came out.  Really, she’s hard to miss.  Even the kids in this movie comment about her rack.

By now, I’m sure that many of you are thinking something along the lines of “Wow! If they got away with this much, I can’t wait to see the unrated cut on video!” 

Yeah, well, about that…

Despite a vague reference to a Director’s Cut on the commentary track, as of December, 2011, there is no such thing.  The cut of Piranha you get on disc is the one you saw on the big screen.  As noted, though, that’s still heftier than most unrated flicks to begin with, and if you check out the extras – which I highly recommend that you do – you’re rewarded for your efforts.  The deleted scenes not only show just a little more skin, but they also fill in some plot gaps for those who still feel some connection to the story. So yes; take the time to watch the extras.  But now, back to our regularly scheduled movie already in progress…

As far as the plot for Piranha goes: it’s thin, it’s basic, but it’s serviceable, and its only really major gap gets filled in by one of the deleted scenes.  It does what it needs to do to keep the action moving, the boobs bouncing, and the blood flowing, providing a spot-on mix of “we are not taking ourselves seriously” laughs with just enough genuine horror to have all of that blood make sense.  The story’s self-awareness extends to remembering its heritage, lifting from and/or spoofing both previous Piranha movies as well as the one that started it all, Jaws.  My only real complaint here is the inclusion of the young kids.  Yes, I get why they’re there, both as a plot device and as a throwback to what came before, and I even think that the young actors playing them (Brooklyn Proulx and Sage Ryan) actually do a superb job.  But even with that in mind (and again, with no fault to the performers), in movies like this, unless the young kids are the monsters like in The Omen, they really just don’t need to be there.  Sure, they’re handled very well, but still.  They’re out of place, and amazingly enough, their inclusion is the one part of Piranha that I actually find tacky.

Moving on to the adult cast, Piranha does far better than anyone could have expected for an exploitation flick, with only a few trip-ups, and scores some major short-exposure coups on the side.  Taking those first, the Richard Dreyfuss cameo is, as mentioned, one of the most hilariously awesome of all time.  It’s also great to see Christopher Lloyd doing an ichthyological take on Doc Brown as the pet store owner who just happens to keep fossilized piranha on his wall.  Stepping up to the leads, while no one is going to be demanding thespianism at its finest here, it’s still nice to see a mostly quality cast that gives a damn.  Elisabeth Shue is simply excellent in the sheriff’s role, and hey, Ving Rhames is Ving Rhames.  This dude’s got the kind of presence that could probably kill piranha in a vibe contest.  Stealing the show, however, is Jerry O’Connell (Scream 2) as the not-so-subtle lift on a certain “Girls Gone Wild” honcho whose lawyers get touchy about the subject of this movie.  O’Connell hams it up for all he’s got, and the results are hilarious.  As for his sidekick, Kelly Brook… hey, all the movie demands is that you look at her.

Much less impressive is Steven R. McQueen, who has absolutely none of the presence of his famous grandfather.  Fortunately, despite his leading role, all that Piranha really requires him to do is read his lines, so he doesn’t kill the movie.  Set against the better actors around him, his shortcomings really stand out, though, and there’s no way he should be getting any more film leads anytime soon.

But it’s not like you’re watching Piranha for the acting in the first place, right?  Exactly.

No, you’re watching for blood, boobs, and more blood, along with some laughs, and Piranha delivers all of those by the truckload.  It knows what its audience wants, and it delivers the goods: no more, no less.  Piranha is a film whose makers have no illusions about its rightful place on the shelf, and who are happy to revel in its shameless cheesiness.

Bottom line, Piranha is a party in a box.  Specifically, it’s a frat party.  This is the kind of flick the demands to be enjoyed along with a cold beer or several.  If you love B movies and cheesy creature flicks with lots of blood and gore and a liberal helping of nudity on the side, there is simply no reason not to pick up Piranha, especially now that it has started to live on the cheap shelf.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, December, 2011


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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