A lovely day at the beach.
Cribbing its title and basic "chew 'em up" thrust from the 1978 cult item of the same name, PIRANHA has nothing on its mind but giving the audience that likes this kind of thing exactly what it wants: a shit-ton of vicious gore spurred by carnivorous fish, accented with copious amounts of buck nekkid tiddies and buttsteak. The beauty of this particular serving of such delights is that it was crafted by people who understood just what kind of movie they were making and were in on the gag.
The story relates the dire events following an earthquake that unleashes a massive number of prehistoric piranha upon the unsuspecting drunk and horny attendees of Spring Break in the fictional town of Lake Victoria, with the plot knowingly eschewing deep character development in favor of sheer fun ultra-gory humor. The principals include the sheriff (Elizabeth Shue), her partner (Ving Rhames), her kids (a teenage son and two pre-teen siblings), a couple of porn stars (I'll get to them presently), and their super-sleazy "girls gone wild"-style boss, a pornographer played to the hilt of amusing loathsomeness by Jerry O'Connell.
The plot borrows from several notable films in the "carnivorous fish eat the living shit out of everybody in sight" genre (including a terrific cameo role by Richard Dreyfuss as pretty much Matt Hooper from JAWS) but never once feels like a ripoff because it uses its antecedents as fodder for lampooning that notches the insanity up to "11." You get the water populated by revelers who won't listen to the warnings of the authorities and people being eaten as they engage in assorted aquatic fun (as seen in pretty much every JAWS movie), folks stranded on a dodgy seafaring craft that's only moments away from allowing the hungry fish access to the strandees (think JAWS 2), and crazy set pieces in which bathers are eagerly devoured in glorious displays of arterial spray and mangled carnage, only with said gore and carnage piled on to a ludicrous degree, resulting in a final twenty minutes in which all hell breaks loose (and then some).
In other words, a perfect example of this specific genre, a roller coaster of waaaay over the top lunacy that solidly delvers on all counts.
I won't give away the plot particulars because it's all simply a more intelligent and intentionally funny take on stuff we've seen countless times since JAWS hit in 1975 and you could pretty much write most of it yourself, but I will stop to point out one sequence that literally stopped me in my tracks. There's a bit where the pornographer sets off on a yacht to film his two porn star companions performing a nude underwater ballet in swim fins that evokes images of sensuous mermaids performing fluid arabesques unhampered by the constraints of gravity. This moment of stunning gorgeousness is a painstakingly choreographed submerged pas de deux brought to vivid life by British model and actress Kelley Brook and porn actress Riley Steele and it must have been a visual knockout when seen projected in 3-D.
The awe-inspiring "mermaid ballet" sequence: an instant classic moment in world cinema.
While the sequence certainly has its exploitative aspect, it's kind of odd because although it provides loving glimpses of just about every millimeter of the actresses' nubile flesh, the action is tasteful — digital shading eliminated any shots that would have been too gynecological in nature — and the musical accompaniment, the familiar "Lakme-Flower Duet," renders the visual truly compelling. It's a moment of genuine artful beauty in a film otherwise populated with looniness and people being ripped apart by slavering CGI piranha that must have been amazing in its original 3-D version, and I thank French director Alexandre Aja for every frame of it. And yes, I'm being completely sincere.
The simple sensuous beauty of the human female form as seen in action underwater.
And while the blonde of the pair (Steele) is certainly easy on the eyes, it's Kelly Brook whose goddesslike form and face nearly made my peepers fall out of their sockets since there is now little worth seeing after witnessing her at all, much less unabashedly and confidently naked.
The wonder of nature that is Kelly Brook. Jumping Jesus in a basket of honey-glazed chicken...
I'm assuming her Euro upbringing left her without the squeamishness regarding onscreen nudity that most American actresses bear, so she gets extra points for being so game about it all. Then again, if I were a woman and looked like her, I would never wear clothes, simply on general principle. In fact, there should be an internationally-agreed-upon law forbidding Brook from ever being clad, unless it's really cold or something. And adding to this excellence is the fact that she's funny and can act!
Bottom line: PIRANHA is is a ton of fun if you have a taste for this flavor of cinematic excess, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Its content is about as extreme as it gets for a film with an "R" rating, and I would like to know who was asleep at the usually stringent MPAA ratings board the day this one came up for consideration. (According to the director's commentary, the film was passed without cuts, and if that's true, I'm frankly astounded.) Damn, I wish I'd seen this on the big screen and in 3-D!
Poster from the original theatrical release.