Reel Shorts | Piranha 3D

20 08 2010

This feature first appeared in Jet Magazine.com. To read this review at its original source, click here.

Director Steven Spielberg was the first filmmaker to warn audiences that it was not safe to go into the water. Apparently, while times have changed, the threat remains very real as prehistoric piranhas are unleashed on a group of college students on spring break in the satisfying horror film, “Piranha 3D.”

In a fitting homage to the terror classic “Jaws,” Richard Dreyfuss reprises his role from that film and his actions trigger an underwater explosion that unleashes thousands of 2-million-year-old piranhas hungry for prey. These blood-thirsty cannibals have feasted on each other for centuries but soon they will have an opportunity to feast in a major way.

On shore, the town of Lake Victoria is welcoming thousands of college students for their annual Spring Break celebration. Scantily clad women, drunken boozing men and plenty of alcohol is the perfect cocktail that sets the story in motion. As dismembered bodies begin popping up, it is up to the town’s Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) and her Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) to control the mayhem before it gets out of hand.

These are not your garden variety predators. According to researcher Mr. Goodman (Christopher Lloyd), these piranhas have been awakened from hibernation and have evolved into a pack of aggressive, terrifying hunters. While the authorities try to come up with a way to stop them, the party is full on, with students getting it in every way possible. There is even a porn director (Jerry O’Connell) shooting a film on the water, unaware of the pending danger.

All of the cliches are there but for some reason the story still works. Filmed in glorious 3D, there are plenty of the obligatory shots of objects that fly into the audience. Director Alexandre Aja and his team also come up with a way to creatively show the predators’ destruction without totally grossing out the audience (even though there is one scene that is amusing, yet disgusting at the same time!). Aja does a wonderful job of balancing the stories and keeping the action moving with a superb ensemble cast whose reach never exceeds their grasp. Despite its predictability, the film intimately understands exactly what it is …and what it’s not.

After years of inactivity, Shue, Lloyd and Rhames turn in solid performances that help drive the story. Shue’s heroic character may not be as physical as Angelina Jolie’s Evelyn Salt but her determination and passion are clearly enough to save the day. Lloyd channels his Dr. Emmett Brown from the “Back to the Future” franchise to sound the warning bells about the prehistoric predators. As the Black character in a horror film, Rhames knew exactly what he was signing up for (wink, wink), but still managed to create a memorable impression trying to stop the piranhas from their human happy meal.

At its core, the film is a contemporary homage to Spielberg’s “Jaws.” Despite its flaws, “Piranha 3D” will win over horror fans with a fun approach that gives them exactly what they want. Make no mistake, there is plenty of blood and gore in the story but it won’t stop you from enjoying the its pleasures. Breezing by in under 90 minutes, “Piranha 3D” may not be superior to “Jaws” but it is successful at taking the best parts of that story and updating them for a new generation of horror fans that want their films to have more bite than shark!

Grade: B-

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