Thursday, October 4, 2012

Piranha 3D Review

What can I say? A competent French film director, a cast for a Fox/CW TV show, and a tongue-in-cheek but bloody sensibility - this should make for an easy-to-enjoy, fun little horror movie. But I knew the mindset for it was like... Porky's, and I have no interest in going backwards.

I couldn't believe I was going to watch this trashy, vapid pic, but I have such a history with horror... I figured: I should know what the genre's doing these days; and if it sucks, I'll enjoy laughing at it.

To my shock, it came closer to holding up than I ever expected, because it's just competent enough and just irreverent enough to earn some intellectual credit. Also, it spends the start of the movie doing a proper job of setting up a motion picture with a story.

So many pictures ignore those film-making basics.

But no glimmers of cleverness can save Piranha 3D from its most-damning flaw: it's too carefully, obviously manufactured. You can act like a rebel all you want, but you lose all respect once it's clear that your attitude is just show. It's why this movie made an early good impression, then devolved into (lots of) pure suck.

If you don't know me, I'm hard to offend, and I don't have any special problems or issues with sex, nudity, harsh language, horror, or violence. I've enjoyed the first three in real life many times; I've enjoyed the last two in films at least as often. It's not like sex is a problem, or maturity is a problem, but if you're this immature, you don't deserve sex, idiot.

Even if you didn't notice this vibe, like I did, there are other reasons to be dissatisfied. It starts out in a way that's cheeky but not vulgar, and that legitimately works, despite the material: a 9 y/o girl complimenting supermodel Kelly Brook on her full breasts. The two chitchat (training bras, etc), their openness creating a clever and awkward moment - the child's single, 20-something brother shows up, and this gorgeous woman's body is the topic of conversation.

Better still, Ms. Brook is presented as a competent, smart female who isn't a nympo/man-eater! She flirts with the big bro, but doesn't do it cheaply. She also doesn't suffer from the illness that most legitimately hot tv and film women suffer from - being written as just a relentlessly sarcastic, combative jerk. KB does a nice job playing a role that's written realistically, refreshingly. Maybe this film would even pass The Bechdel Test?...

And the hard-ass town sheriff is Elisabeth Shue! This is a good opening, whether it's a straight horror movie, a disaster/monster pic that's going for cheesecake, anything... Considering its rep, Piranha 3D really surprised me with this opening. I thought that I might be looking at a pic that's sleazy, but takes a good, balanced attitude towards men and women (which is crucial to selling the humor). I could already see the comedic tone being established, and most every actor was just fine; now, I expected non-cheap sexuality to be sprinkled throughout gore and comedy.

But the reality's betrayed by other things, like the milling Spring Break kids, or the quick brush past character development in favor of jumping right into the action (which is fine) while also adding an unnecessary romance/love triangle with no energy.

In the end, I guess Alexandre Aja wanted to make a movie about breasts. I mean, sure, breasts deserve their own movie, even two or three - but those already exist; there's too many, even. Nor should anyone ignore the fact that this pic has no story, just a situation that happens alongside a DOA love triangle.

Imagine my disappointment when I started to see a movie that was just childish and disrespectful. Multiple adult film actresses were hired so that could be used to draw internet addicts everywhere and provide additional nude shots. One woman got such a massive boob job that the sight of her naked and underwater is pretty unnerving, actually.

When the monsters show up and blood starts gushing (cgi monsters, cgi blood), it's really not fun to look at half-eaten gorgeous women. Since the tone is light but with a cynical edge, and you're expected to draw some excitement from the porn star that they got to make out with supermodel Kelly Brook (who may benefit from a breast reduction, herself)... The violence gives the sexuality that came earlier this weird atmosphere. You have to wonder who'd derive pleasure from this on-screen action.

It worries me, is what I'm getting at, and I've seen plenty of horror movies with nudity, sex and dismemberment.

And it gets worse: the storyline is centered around a "Girls Gone Whatever" type of film producer, and the small town, lakeside Spring Break party that he exploits. But Piranha never comes close to commenting on any of this; the two nude models that the lead spends time with are presented as perfectly fine, cool people. All the kids that come to the town are presented as silly or dumb drunk idiots.

Justin Bateman is cast as the scumbag producer behind everything, and it's where the movie starts to betray itself. Not only is he written as a heavy-handed satire, but he's also used to drive the plot forward - the latter decision was a bad choice, because after his first 3 or 4 appearances, Bateman's part always advances the plot in a really stupid way.

After spending all movie long teaching us to hate him, his character is attacked and makes a point of saying that his d--k was bitten off by one of the fish. Five seconds later, we see water that looks reddish because of bad CGI instead of a filter, then an unreal-looking CGI piranha swims by a dismembered penis. Then after a couple of seconds (so we all know it's a penis, and that it's that jerk's penis) it eats the body part.

It does this by swimming in front of the screen the way you'd expect to see a fish move on the other side of aquarium glass. Since there isn't a bare rack to latch onto, Aja took no advantage of using different perspectives to shoot the underwater scene - like overhead, or profile, or shooting up to image.

I know Alexandre Aja is a French horror auteur, but what kind of f-king idiot thinks this is a good way to film a movie? It's not just that that entire moment is a dumb idea, it's that the CGI fish look just terrible. Ugh.

Worse still, is the impossible versatility of the titular monster. How the hell can they travel everywhere, unrestricted by anything? Since they swarm over everything as if they could teleport, how can we accept the scenes were people survive being in the water for 20 seconds? And how do they jump out of the water to score a kill - which they never do again?

Why is her character getting killed? Why in such a dumb way? Are pretty women supposed to suffer in this pic?

It's too fake to be as free-spirited and "different" as P3D wants to be (or wants to look). A lot of mediocre movies used to be that way - they would nail the character beats, but the fx looked bad. They might have had nice ideas, but stiff casts or poor scripts made it so you couldn't suggest them. Maybe their appeal leveraged a lot of guilty pleasure stuff, along with quality action, lines, or roles. That was what the past of horror was like.

Piranha aims for exactly that mark, tho, and it uses a lot of tricks to do so. Too many, in fact, so the "hidden gem" appeal that it's going for can't stand up. It has this intended energy, the rare raunchy, hard-r horror flick with a summertime blockbuster mentality that's fun. But it services that mission statement in such a quick, senseless, and cheap-looking way that it couldn't win me over.

A lot of what this movie did, it started to do well, tho. And I always like a chance to get to see Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Kari Wuhrer, and some of the other actors here. If this pic could've held onto the attitude it displayed in those openings scenes, I'd have so many better things to write about it; I'd be telling you to check it out asap. Shame on you for this boys'-club-esque near-miss, Aja; you can find a modern raunchy way to go forward.

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