Old 08-27-2010, 05:16 PM
Alexandre Aja's Piranha

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Piranha (2010)

Alexandre Aja's "Piranha" is an update of Joe Dante's 1978 film of the same name. Now I've never seen the original film, but I imagine it would be almost exactly like this remake with the same vacationers, piranhas, water, and lots of screaming. True, the stories may be a little bit different, but do you really think anyone going to see this movie is going to be overly concerned about the story?

This take on the material involves spring breakers partying at Lake Victoria, Arizona. Jake Forester (Steven R. McQueen) has agreed to watch his younger siblings while his mother, Julie (Elisabeth Shue), goes about her job as a local police officer. However, Jake doesn't want to miss out on the spring break action at the lake, so he leaves the kids home alone and ends up on a boat with a director of "Girls Gone Wild"-ish videos, Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell), and some beautiful women.

Meanwhile, Julie escorts a group of seismologists to inspect the lake after an earthquake that struck recently. They find a massive underground lake that just happens to be filled with piranhas. After these piranhas violently attack two of the scientists, Julie must rush back to warn all the partying teens before a disaster occurs.

So far, "Piranha" has been called a "guilty pleasure" of sorts by several who have seen it, and I would agree with that if it weren't for the first half of the film. The first half is so incredibly sluggish and so concerned with setting up a half-baked story that it forgets the reason that people are coming to see this movie. This section is almost entirely devoid of piranhas with very few advances in the "plot." It becomes a pain to have to sit through this in anticipation of what's sure to come.

Eventually, when the film gets into the second half, it finally goes into overdrive. There is a good 10-15 minute section that is just wild, over-the-top, gory piranha action, and it is this section that saves the film from becoming an overly-sluggish bore. The nice thing about having a story to go along with this mayhem is that you have some actual characters to root for as well besides the piranhas.

The whole premise of the film is supposed to be campy and filled with black humor, similar to the "Friday the 13th" (doing what you shouldn't be doing when there's an emergency) and "Final Destination" (gruesomely-bizarre ways of dying) franchises. For example, there is a scene where the police are trying to inform the spring breakers that they need to get out of the water. One of the officers fires a gun in the air to get their attention and then tells them an emergency has been declared, but their response to his warning is to jump in the water and continue partying. This leads to utter chaos when the piranhas arrive with several teens being eaten while a banner in the background reads "dying to get wet."

Something else that made me laugh a bit had little to do with the movie itself, but rather how Rotten Tomatoes described it as "Mystery and Suspense." There's no mystery at all. They're piranhas, end of story. Nor is there any suspense as the piranhas attack very quickly with no build up to it and are done in a matter of seconds. If you don't end up laughing at the over-the-top nature of the film, you may simply end up horrified at what you see. It's not a pretty picture, and it's not meant to be, so let that be a warning up front before you decide to go see this.

The film has a few cameos that help it along, but sadly, they are very short and gone before you know it. Ving Rhames shows up for a couple of short scenes as an officer helping to fight off the piranhas and Christopher Lloyd has two brief scenes where he plays an ichthyologist who informs us that this particular species of piranha were thought to have died out two million years ago. Richard Dreyfuss even makes a brief appearance in the opening scene. The film could have used a lot more of these guys, especially to supplement the flat first half.

I understand what the filmmakers were trying to do and they almost pulled it off, but there's no sense in making the audience slog through a dreary 40+ minutes before the fun actually begins. Films like the ones I mentioned earlier don't usually do such a thing. Of course, I'm using the word "fun" in a relative context, meaning that if you like those kinds of films, you may be tempted, but as far as "Piranha" goes, there just isn't enough of what makes those films enjoyable here. 2.5/4 stars.
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