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Review: 'Piranha 3D' offers dumb fun done right

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“Piranha 3D”
Directed by:  Alexandre Aja
Starring: Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Adam Scott, Steven R. McQueen, Jerry O’Connell, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele
Rated: R

Sputnik Monroe, 1960s-era professional wrestler, made a statement that has always stuck with me. He said, with all of his pro-wrestler eloquence, “There's a fine line between being a genius and an idiot!”
No recent film affirms that concept better than Alexandre Aja's remake of/homage to the 1978 B-movie classic, “Piranha.”

And Aja ups the ante by making this film in 3D. He's a director who realizes that you have to be really smart to pull off stupid.

In lesser hands, “Piranha 3D” might just be plain dumb, rather than brilliantly dumb.

It's got everything a movie of its type requires: An over-the-top premise, stilted dialogue, vicious creatures, blood and guts and gore, spring break debauchery, “Girls Gone Wild” style booty shaking and a few moments of (softcore) nudity, as seen through a glass-bottomed boat.

There's even an “Underwater Ballet Choreographer” listed in the closing credits.

It's all done with true drive-in movie style aplomb; with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

The original “Piranha” has an interesting history. Coming on the heels of the “Jaws” craze, it was made on a minuscule budget by people who would later branch out into bigger and better films.

The director, Joe Dante, went on to do a segment of “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” “The Howling,” the “Gremlins” franchise and the eminently enjoyable “Matinee.”

The writer of the '78 version was John Sayles. His credits, including “Return of the Secaucus Seven,” “Passion Fish,” “City of Hope” and “Eight Men Out,” show he is a fairly serious writer and director. He's a legend in the independent film world.

Most importantly, the original “Piranha” could not have been made without the producer, the inimitable Roger Corman, king of the B-movies.

The people behind “Piranha 3D” obviously studied the bulk of Corman's work - which is a huge oeuvre - and took notes.

Describing the plot of the film is an exercise in stating the obvious, but here goes.

A freak earthquake opens up a passageway to a lake beneath a lake, allowing an ancient species of flesh eating fish out from the depths. This happens right before spring break begins and just in time for the little resort town located on Lake Victoria in Arizona (being played by the beautiful Lake Havasu in Utah) to welcome 50,000 college kids bent on partying down, drinking up and in the case of a lot of the co-eds, baring their flesh.

On hand to catch the action is sleazy DVD director Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell). He's there for flesh and what he gets is flesh and blood. The character is the most obvious one that is surely going to be killed. It's just a matter of time. When it happens, the scene makes an ironic (and gorily comedic) reference to Derrick's exploitation of body parts. And remember, it's in 3D!

As the kids start coming into town, the local sheriff, Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), has her hands full trying to keep things as in hand as possible. Shue is a great actress and has done some serious work (“Leaving Las Vegas.”) She plays this decidedly campy send-up with as much class as a role of this sort allows.

While the spring break party is going on, the locals, including the sheriff's son, are making the most of the influx of the “woo-hoo” infused college kids. And (again no surprise) her son and his local girlfriend are at the heart of a main part of piranha induced terror action.

Mayhem, bloodletting and disrobing are the mainstays of the third act. These ancient carnivore fish seemed to have developed the uncanny ability to remove bikini tops before actually coming in for the kill.

It's all good, dumb fun. Director Aja knows the territory. He did the extremely gory remake of “The Hills Have Eyes,” but “Piranha 3D” is more lighthearted, if that's any way to describe a film where carnivorous fish devour an endless stream (I mean a lake full) of party-crazed young adults.

I am not a big fan of 3D films. They give me headaches. “Piranha 3D” is not too bad about overdoing it and some of the scenes are more fun when things are floating right in front of your face.  The gore is funnier than it is disturbing and the bare skin is gratuitous, but that's the whole point.

Silly? You bet. But it's the best kind of dumb film.[[In-content Ad]]


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