If the Weinstein brothers had hired Stephen Hawking to postulate a foolproof formula for filling movie theaters with young male viewers, the result would very likely look a lot like their latest installment in the 32-year-old “Piranha” franchise: Spring Break + “Girls Gone Wild”-style shoots divided by football-sized flesh eating fish = good old fashioned R rated horror fun.
The 1978 original was produced by Roger Corman, directed by Joe Dante, scripted by John Sayles and intended as a low budget rip-off of the megahit Jaws. The makers of this movie understand that the only name with which its target demo will be familiar is Steven Spielberg’s proto-summer blockbuster and wisely keep the related in jokes coming. In the process they also endear themselves to an additional market: AARP members who were around to be scared out of the water back when Roy Scheider first closed the beaches of Amity.
Scheider, regrettably, wasn’t available for a cameo in “Piranha 3D” but Richard Dreyfuss was and appears in the opening scene as a retirement age Matt Hooper reprising “Show Me The Way To Go Home” and doing a bit of fishing on Arizona’s Lake Victoria (played by real life Lake Havasu). Wouldn’t you know it—a seismic disturbance creates an opening to a subterranean body of water unleashing swarms of fanged prehistoric piranha and, after surviving his encounter with the giant fish, Hooper falls victim to relatively little ones. He should have brought a bigger boat.
The officer in charge this time around is played by Elisabeth Shue and, just as Chief Brody did back in 1975, she finds herself forced to deal with the unpopular prospect of shutting down the town’s beaches at the height of a holiday season. Of course, in this case the special occasion is spring break so, rather than families and old men with funny caps, the hamlet is overrun with drunk frat boys and bikini clad co-eds gyrating to the blasting beat of some MTV type shoot complete with wet T-shirt contests. Little does she realize it for most of the movie but she shares another dilemma with her Amity counterpart: Her children have chosen the worst time possible to spend the day on the water.
Steven McQueen (yes, grandson of the late great) plays her eldest, who’s hired as a location scout by Jerry O’Connell in the role of a Joe Francis-inspired sleazebag who makes videos of young women going wild—or at any rate going without their bikinis. French director Alexandre (“High Tension”) Aja fits more nudity into the film’s 82 minutes than I’ve encountered in the past 10 to 15 years and has a heyday combining it with the F/X gore reaped by the titular (so to speak) flesh eaters. The sight gags run the gamut from the make-you-laugh to the make-you-hurl. His film will go down in cinematic history for, if nothing else, offering the first 3D underwater display of male frontal nudity for which the male involved didn’t need to be present for his close up. Think the pool scene in “Caddyshack” as reimagined by Lorena Bobbitt. Ouch.
Oh and, as a deputy, Ving Rhames has a priceless “Snakes On A Plane” moment when he reaches his breaking point, yanks the motor off the back of a boat and uses it to puree every living thing within wading distance. The movie’s wall-to-wall with gratuitous, gruesome stuff like that and it’s just great fun. “Piranha 3D” has everything you want in pull-out-the-stops, B-movie baloney and more. And by more, I mean its writers leave it wide open for an even crazier sequel. If half the team behind this regroup for another fishing trip, I’ll be there.
Something tells me they’ll be biting.