Today I went to see Piranha 3D with good expectations, but left with a bittersweet feeling. The sweet part was the exaggerated violence, Richard Dreyfuss cameo, and unapologetic nudity, courtesy of some real-life porn stars. The bitter part was realizing that I had paid to see innocent people killed for my own entertainment.
As the title indicates, this movie is about piranhas swimming towards the audience in 3D. It’s spring break in the fictional city of Lake Victoria, and thousands of college and high school students have invaded the city in search of beer, fun in the sun, and sex. This gives Sheriff Julie Foster (Elizabeth Shue) and Deputy Fallon a major headache, but little do they know that a recent earthquake has ripped open their lake, allowing million-year-old piranhas to feast on anything. let it move in the lake.
Also at the lake that weekend is Foster’s son Jake (Steven R. McQueen), who is giving a sleazy producer of a popular porn site called “Wild Wild Girls” a tour of the lake (think Girls Gone Wild). The producer (Jerry O’Connell) convinces Kelly, Jake’s former high school crush, to come on his boat as well, but Jake insists that he doesn’t mind since she’s not his girlfriend. Right.
The thin plot aside, the real spectacle is the people attacked by piranhas, the wet T-shirt contests, and two pornstars swimming naked underwater. It’s all there and well done. People die in extremely gruesome ways: limbs are torn apart, eyeballs are eaten, heads are crushed, and a piranha makes its way through a woman’s chest and then out of her mouth. Real-life piranhas are probably not that fierce (or that hungry), but Christopher Lloyd shows up as a fish expert to explain that these particular piranhas are the originals from millions of years ago. This explanation, coming from the actor who explained how the flux capacitor works in “Back to the Future”, makes the movie worthwhile for any movie lover.
So as far as sticking to the B movie genre, the movie manages to be what it wants to be. My big problem is the scenes where people come out of the water bleeding severely from skin wounds and literally falling apart. There are great moments of tension before they are eaten alive, and some people are eaten in fun and inventive ways, but I have a hard time watching dozens of people suffer for my own entertainment. I know, I know, it’s just a movie, the fish are just animated pictures, and no actor was hurt, they were just pretending to die painfully. But when those children walked away from that massacre, I didn’t laugh, I felt sorry for them.
Exaggerated violence works best when the violence is directed at characters who are expecting it. This is why a TV show like Dexter is successful. Dexter Morgan tries to kill people who deserve to die, making it a guilty pleasure for the audience when he slaughters a bad guy. So when the seedy character of Jerry O’Connell realizes what’s in store for him, I can cheer him up. What I find difficult to encourage is the vision of an innocent young woman who has half her face ripped off because her hair got caught in the propeller of a speedboat and the idiot who was driving it was trying to restart the engine. Somehow, I can’t laugh at that image.
I’ve read that for the sequel the producers will have the audience vote for which celebrity they want to see eaten by piranhas. I can be quite cynical when I want to, but isn’t that going too far? I don’t think anyone should hate a person so much that they would like to be eaten alive. Okay, maybe Osama Bin Laden, but the cast of Jersey Shore? Really? If they bother you so much, do what I do: don’t look at them. There is no need to fantasize about watching them die brutally chewed.
Perhaps I am being hypocritical as I have enjoyed movies like “Snakes on a Plane” and “Jurassic Park” where people are also eaten or bitten to death. In my defense, the first time I saw “Jurassic Park” I didn’t really enjoy watching people die, but again I was seven at the time, so I probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place. As for “Snakes on a Plane”, I’d say that once people were bitten by snakes, they would pass out or die instantly. Whereas with piranhas, once they bit into a girl’s meat, they kept biting and biting and biting as she screamed. By the fifth bite, he hoped the character had bled to death and was ready to come out of his misery.