Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Piranha 3D

Put your hands together for Piranha, the only film in the wake of the 3D revolution to realise that the technology is best deployed as a bit of a laugh. It helps of course that the film itself is also one: a delightfully puerile, adolescent, sleazy throwback to a style of moviemaking that reveled in such naughtiness. It's turned out to be a canny slice of late summer programming: after a peculiar 80s throwback year, now we have a proper grind house movie in all its glory to end the season properly.

The key is that acclaimed horror auteur Alexandre Aja respects his audience, however juvenile. After brutal efforts Switchblade Romance and the remake of Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes, there's something perversely innocent about Piranha; a sense of purity in spite of all the floating body parts, gratuitous nudity and severed gentlemen vegetables. It's a film that delivers exactly on its base promises, while also carrying a healthy sense of gallows humour.

Said giggles begin in the witty opening sequence where Richard Dreyfuss (riffing on his Jaws character Hooper singing 'Show Me the Way to Go Home') becomes fish food for a vicious school of prehistoric piranha freed from an underwater chasm by an earth tremor. However, he's merely the entree. Spring Break has descended on Lake Victoria, Arizona, where hundreds of nubile, idiotic young things are practically screaming to be devoured. Kick-ass Sheriff Elisabeth Shue attempts to warn of impending danger, little realising that her teenage son Steven R. McQueen (grandson of the screen legend) has been roped in as location scout for porn director Jerry O'Connell, leaving behind his little brother and sister.

Will carnage ensue? Yes, but only after Aja has built up tension nicely, a few brief devourings here, a hilariously manic Christopher Lloyd there, popping up to explain, Doc Brown eyes boggling, how to stop the piranha. Kelly Brook and Riley Steele even enjoy an extended under-water skinny dip, an eye-boggling wake-up call for those who haven't quite got the joke. But it's when poor O'Connell's tadger has been devoured then spat out by a fussy fish - in 3D! - that the film lives up to its poster and really shows its teeth, Aja staging a staggeringly bloody massacre that sees the lake dyed a deep maroon within a matter of seconds.

Yet it's all leavened with a campy sense of ironic distance, and the wonderfully knowing cast prevent it from descending into sadism; those with a strong stomach will crease up at a pair of breast implants floating up from skeletal remains or Ving Rhames taking on the hordes with an outboard motor. It's perfectly realised within its own ambitions, never over-reaching itself which, in this day and age of pretentious big-budget twaddle, is a real boon. Props too for the level-headed recognition of 3D as a flashy gimmick that works best with a flashy gimmick of a film. It's the anti-Avatar: not 5 years in the making, not a harbinger of new technology; just simply, a riot. Take that, James Cameron!

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