Three out of Five Stars
Rated R/89 min.
Despite its considerable flaws, two things make Piranha 3D both recommendable and utterly critic-proof: the killer fish look great and the 3D effects are the best I’ve seen all year.
Elisabeth Shue stars as a local law enforcer who discovers that, during an especially rowdy Spring Break weekend, the waters are overflowing with a bloodthirsty, thought-to-be-extinct breed of monster piranhas. Boats full of drunk, scantily clad and exceptionally stupid co-eds are soon mere appetizers for the toothy creatures, which are fast and ugly, like Gremlins with gills.
Don’t bother seeing this for the actors. Shue looks embarrassed, Ving Rhames has one cool moment but is otherwise barely utilized and Jaws alum Richard Dreyfus, despite being top-billed, literally has nothing to do in his one scene. The only bright spots are Christopher Lloyd (re-united with Shue for the first time since Back to the Future Part II), who goes on Doc Brown auto pilot as the local aquatic expert, and Jerry O’Connell, hamming it up as a thinly guised version of the Girls Gone Wild creator (here, it’s Wild Wild Girls).
James Cameron enthusiasts won’t appreciate this, but the 3D is as clever, layered and vivid as anything in Avatar. Other than How to Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me, most of this year’s 3D “enhanced” movies have been letdowns. Here’s one you’ll want to see on the big screen or not at all. You’ll not only feel closer than you’d ever want to get to the title creatures, but you’ll see some other things thrust at you that you’ve never seen before in a mainstream movie. Yes, there are the inevitable moments of nudity (or, more accurately, extended scenes of gratuitous nudity) but there are some truly fiendish surprises that make this funnier and smarter than it has any right to be.
The scares are minimal. I jumped a couple of times early on, but the film plays better as a dark comedy than a horror movie. Even with some genuine suspense at the end and ample gore at the mid-point, what stays with you are the outrageous, gleefully excessive moments.
Joe Dante directed the original Piranha in 1978, a shameless Jaws parody/ripoff that also juggled shocks and laughs and featured the classic line, “They’re eating the guests, sir.” The remake is likewise a bawdy cheese fest, but with sensational 3D. Grab your rowdiest friends and have a blast.