Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.
The success of Jaws caused a lot of copycat films in the years that followed. There were all sorts of “wild animal starts eating people” movies, some of which stayed in the water. It’s how we got movies like Orca and the original Piranha. With the 2010, 3-D version of Piranha, we’ve reached the point where the low-budget derivatives of classics are worth remaking. That’s true at least hypothetically. The reality is a bit different.
Piranha starts with a great joke. We see an older guy on a boat singing to himself, drinking beer, and fishing. It’s soon evident that it’s Richard Dreyfuss and he’s singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” Then an earthquake happens, opening up a rift in the bottom of the lake. Out swims a horde of prehistoric piranha. Soon, Richard Dreyfuss is eaten. That’s what we’re here for, after all.
Okay, I’m going to introduce the characters that we kind of care about here and I’m going to ignore the rest because they are here specifically to be eaten. Our story takes place in a spring break town in Florida. Our sheriff is Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), ably assisted Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames). She has three kids. Jake (Steven R. McQueen) is old enough to want to be a part of the spring break partying. Laura (Brooklynn Proulx) and Zane (Sage Ryan) are not. Jake has a crush on local girl Kelly (Jessica Szohr). Since it’s spring break, the town has been invaded by the equivalent of Girls Gone Wild, headed by Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell). Seismologists show up because of the earthquake; they are headed by Novak Radzinski (Adam Scott). Finally, there is a retired marine biologist (Christopher Lloyd), who will serve essentially as our voice of wisdom, exposition maven, and information deus ex machina. There are other people you might think you are supposed to care about. You’re not.
Can you guess what happens? Well, lots of our people are going to end up grouped together. We’re going to get a few piranha attacks and eventually we’re going to have the film conspire to get as many people in the water as possible. And, since Jake and Kelly are going to be spending their day on the Wild Girls boat, there is going to be a hell of a lot of nudity.
In truth, Piranha exists for two scenes. The first is an extended nude underwater sequence that is ostensibly there to embarrass Jake, but is really there because it’s an extended nude scene. The second scene is when the piranha attack a huge group of people having a massive spring break party. The piranha attack and there’s a good chunk of time when it’s basically just as much carnage as can be fit onto the screen. People are eaten, boats crash, people are crushed or dragged into propellers or sliced in half from whipping snapped cables. It’s all the carnage in one spot. It’s a bit much, but I have to admit that if you’re a gorehound, it’s the scene you’re there to see.
Everything about Piranha is juvenile. So much of it exists specifically to show as much flesh as possible for as long as possible. The rest is there to show bad creature effects, lots of red-tinted water, and moments that were clearly done for 3-D. Piranha is all about the surface, though. It’s gore and tits and nothing beyond that, even if it wants to tell you that it might have some pretensions beyond that.
The most glaring example of this comes in the moments before the mass attack. On a floating stage, a number of girls are getting hosed down for a wet t-shirt contest that is being run by a guy played by Eli Roth. It’s pretty clear that Roth was given the direction of more or less shouting out nonsense words at a constant clip to tell the participants to take their shirts off. This means that at one point, trying to coax drunk women to remove their clothing and expose themselves to the crowd, Eli Roth shouts, “Let’s see those Brad Pitts.” Is this supposed to be Cockney rhyming slang with “Brad Pitts” meaning “tits”? If so, it’s lousy, because the real way the slang would work would be to just call them “Brads.” And since he also refers to them as “Bonnie and Clyde” and also “Danny Devitos,” my guess of him shouting nonsense is, I think, accurate. The fact that eventually Eli Roth gets his head literally crushed with a boat is mildly entertaining, but too little too late; fuck Eli Roth. But seriously, at this point I didn’t care.
Piranha is supposed to be funny in places as well and it’s not. It’s the sort of humor that probably worked for the core audience, though. If you were (or are) an 18-year-old guy running entirely off his hormones and libido, having a character complain that his penis has been bitten off is probably the height of humor. It’s probably even funnier for them when we’re given a shot of the piranha eating the penis.
I get why someone might like this, but I also think that most like it ironically. Those who don’t need to watch more (and better) movies for a while. A movie like Jaws created real tension and threat around a huge, terrible animal. Piranha is just a slasher movie, with the weapon being fish with large teeth. That’s it, and that’s not very interesting.
Why to watch Piranha (2010): The most blood in the water since the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan
Why not to watch: It is dumb in every possible aspect.