Steven R. McQueen
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16th Sep 10
Prehistoric piranha fish unleashed on Spring Break. Kelly Brook’s magnificent norks in peril. More affectionate Jaws references than you can shake Robert Shaw’s moustache at. What’s not to love?
Sometimes, when you’re sitting in a rancid pool of your own faeces, joylessly chomping on Value chocolates just because they’re there, and watching some dispiriting CG-laden remake of a movie you once loved, it’s easy to forget why you got into this horror lark in the first place.
Sometimes, when you check out the cinema listings and realise the choice is between a feature length Consumerist Wank-Off starring Sarah Fuckface Parker or a soulless franchise movie called something like Shrek 4Fuck’s Sake, it’s easy to forget why you even got into watching movies in the first place. You start to think of more appealing alternatives, like inserting a kebab skewer into the eye of your own penis while listening to The Bay City Rollers. If there was a God there might be some hope to cling on to.
And then along comes something like Piranha. The signs were promising, if not overly so: Alexandre Aja’s last movie was the Official Laughing Stock of Frightfest 2008. Mirrors, in which Amy Smart rips her own jaw off for no good reason and Jack Bauer waves guns at nuns in between reminding us that water casts a reflection, was an incredibly fun audience experience but a rather depressing one when you revisit it alone in your underpants on a wet Sunday afternoon with mobile in one hand and Euthanasia For Dummies book in the other.
Worse still, it’s in 3-D, which has thus far equated to paying around an extra £100 for the experience of donning goofy glasses that make everything darker yet somehow fail to hide the uselessness of CG monsters.
Luckily, Alexandre Aja is one of us, and he knows what we both want and desperately need. Sure, Mirrors was a misstep, a common bum note that frequently sounds whenever a supremely talented European filmmaker whores themselves out for the Hollywood studio system. But Aja is the man who gave us Switchblade Romance, arguably the best slasher movie of the 21st century and host to the finest ever decapitation sequence involving a large item of house furniture.
He also bucked the trend by remaking a very good 70’s film and making it richer, scarier and as visceral as you always wished it was to start with: his take on The Hills Have Eyes is, quite frankly, a better horror movie than the Wes Craven original. Piranha is the first time that Aja, hitherto the helmsman of intense, mostly humourless splatter movies, has been able to kick back and share the fun of delivering the kind of movie we all loved growing up.
The really really good news is that Piranha turns out to be the most honestly entertaining movie of the summer. Ever since Jaws this season has been dominated by A pictures with major stars and Big Ass FX sequences built upon B movie foundations. The chief recurring problem of these movies is usually that they are aimed at family audiences so most of the fun stuff is drained away.
Piranha knows exactly what it is, understands its intended audience and wastes no time in giving us what we want. When you are 78 years old and spend your days downing pills, wondering why the grandchildren never call and unwittingly microwaving your own cat, you will remember exactly where you were when you craned your neck to try and get a really good look at Kelly Brook’s arsehole. In 3-D. And worthy paying around an extra £100 for the privilege.
The tone is set perfectly by the opening in which a drunken fisherman portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss - still wearing his Matt Hooper outfit - drinks Amity Beer, sings “Show Me The Way To Go Home” and gets stripped to the bone by prehistoric Piranha fish that have been awakened by an earthquake. In the first of many nods to Jaws, Dreyfuss’ mutilated cadaver subsequently pops up to scare the audience in a cute role-reversal of what happened in Spielberg’s memorable, oft-imitated Ben Gardner shock scene. (Note, amongst the other moments of homage, the lovely dolly zoom tribute).
After this initial death, we cut to Spring Break celebrations, and specifically the work of seedy entrepreneur Jerry O’Connell, in town with his girls (porn star Riley Steele, all-purpose uber-hottie Kelly Brook) to make the latest chapter of his Girls Go Wild-style series “Wild Wet Girls”. Hero Steven R McQueen - the kind of bland but pleasant anchor a movie like this needs - tags along for kicks and to keep himself away from internet porn. His little sis ends up imperilled while his mom, feisty lady Sheriff Elisabeth Shue, does her best to deal with the ensuing panic when the deadly fish strike.
(Side note : If you have fond memories of Adventures In Babysitting or just of suffering through acres of Tom Cruise’s punch-worthy grin in Cocktail in the hope of seeing Elisabeth Shue’s boobies, please note she is lovely as ever even though she‘s now officially playing “mom“ roles).
Christopher Lloyd revisits his Doc Brown persona for a characteristically unsubtle bit as a professor who sketches the origins of the monster piranha.
Although Aja takes time to make the central protagonists likeable this is a nimbly paced picture with no extraneous exposition or unnecessary pauses for romantic interest. More significantly, the gifted filmmaker revels in the exploitation goodies demanded by the fans, just like the Corman factory that produced the 70’s Piranha, from which this borrows merely the title. Like the Joe Dante picture, this is content to play it straight on the surface while having fun with the audience at its’ own cheerful, inherent absurdity. The cast - including an amusingly deadpan Ving Rhames and Dina Meyer - are thoroughly in the spirit of the thing.
Such is the movie’s appeal that you can easily forgive some of the hokier moments of CGI mayhem, though the CG piranha themselves - who looked very dodgy in the trailers - are marvellously vicious monsters and pleasantly above the budget level normally associated with this kind of movie.
Even better, KNB have provided an incredible array of nasty flesh wounds, bites and general grue. Given the perfect showcase, the make-up FX boys really hit the bull’s-eye during this movie’s centre piece: a superbly sustained and astonishingly visceral extension of Jaws’ Get Outta The Water sequence that just might stand as the finest mainstream splatter set pieces of the past ten years.
For an R-rated studio picture, this goes wonderfully over the line and is almost (repeat : almost) enough to make you forgive all those shite PG-13 ghost movies that masqueraded as horror pictures for a long, long time (Note : we still haven‘t forgiven you for The Fog remake, which sucks cocks in Hell, where it shares a cell with The Covenant and any of the recent “comedies“ with the word “Movie“ in the title). We’ve waited a long time for a 3-D Hollywood movie in which Jerry O’Connell gets his foul-tasting cock ripped off, eaten and swiftly regurgitated by over-sized piranha fish, and, unlike most things in life involving penises, it’s been worth the wait.
We wont spoil all the highlights as that would be akin to breaking into your house and shitting all over your laminated pictures of Caroline Munro circa 1970. Suffice it to say, Eli Roth is a hoot as an ill-fated Wet T-Shirt contest compere and if you were disappointed by the lack of tits being chewed off in Sex and the City 2 , this movie will fulfil your needs.
Gore aside, the movie has a 13 year old boy’s obsession with boobs, with particular and understandable focus on those of Kelly Brook. If you enjoyed the tabloids’ pre-release “coverage” of the movie, you will be pleased to know the movie follows through by drawing attention to her norks in her very first scene and delivering a weirdly graceful underwater lesbian ballet scene with Riley Steele that will probably be responsible for more adolescent erections than any other movie this summer.
With a pitch-perfect punch line that, for once, leaves you wanting more, Aja’s Piranha is the rare genre beast that manages to be likeable, suspenseful and intentionally funny throughout. Lap up this shameless feast of breasts and blood on the big screen before a copycat piranha attack leads to a campaign to ban it and Hollywood starts green lighting ghost movies starring Joshua Jackson again.