Those who’ve watched MTV’s Spring Break and wished for its undulating crew of debauched partiers to be devoured wholesale or who’ve witnessed Girls Gone Wild’s shameless exploitation of drunken college girls and longed for its smarmy founder Joe Francis to receive a grisly dose of karmic justice or who’ve seen any of Eli Roth’s films and hoped for the “torture-porn” impresario to receive a dose of his own vile medicine will find their catharsis in Piranha 3D. What they will not find is much in the way of a plot quality acting or anything remotely resembling restraint. But you weren’t really expecting that in a film about killer fish were you?
In Piranha 3D director Alexandre Aja's (High Tension The Hills Have Eyes remake) overriding concern is with his relentless onslaught of T&E — tits and entrails. He often groups them together in the same scene — presumably for efficiency’s sake — as when a busty topless parasailor (an IMDB search reveals her to be a porn star named Gianna Michaels) is bisected during a brief dip below the water’s surface or when a similarly-endowed party girl is separated from her bikini top — and then much of her upper torso — by a stray cable from a tumbling platform. Indeed Piranha DDD might be a more suitable title for the film given Aja’s Russ Meyer-meets-Faces of Death sensibility.
Given the ridiculous subject matter Aja has little choice but to wholeheartedly embrace the camp of it all and Piranha 3D is nothing less than the Avatar of B movie schlockfests. In addition to its array of grotesquely violent set pieces the film boasts a gleefully wicked sense of humor the primary vessel of which is Jerry O’Connell who plays internet sleaze merchant Derrick Jones an obvious stand-in for the aforementioned Francis. In search of fresh meat for his co-ed porn site he combs the fictional Arizona resort town of Lake Victoria at the height of spring break for new prey. Unbeknownst to him his prospective talent pool is about to be decimated by a swarm of piranhas recently freed from their undersea prison by a timely earthquake — this despite the heroic efforts of the town’s pair of hardy but laughably impotent sheriffs (Elisabeth Shue and Ving Rhames).
These razor-toothed piranhas may seem like mindless predators but they are not without their share of admirable traits. Before beginning their feeding frenzy for example they’re considerate enough to allow the lake’s doomed revelers one last hedonistic hurrah the highlight of which is an extended sequence in which Jones’ two most prized fillies played by softcore titans Kelly Brook and Riley Steele frolic naked underwater to the tune of “The Flower Duet” from Delibes’ Lakme. (“They’re like fish with boobies!” their director shouts ecstatically.) The fish clearly possess a taste for the ironic and perhaps a bit of a feminist streak as well as we witness when O'Connell's character is literally emasculated during an ill-timed dive. (Fittingly he gurgles “Wet t-shirt” as his final blood-drenched words.) As his severed manhood sinks toward the bottom a piranha arrives and snaps it up but it doesn’t quite agree with the creature and the penis is quickly burped up in disgust. Even the fish can’t stomach him it seems.
Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) is trying to keep his small family together after losing his wife and the mother of their kids Kathy (Shannon Elizabeth) and Bobby (Alec Roberts) in a tragic fire that left them homeless. Out of nowhere one enigmatic Uncle Cyrus (F. Murray Abraham) wills Arthur a bizarre yet dazzlingly beautiful mansion made almost entirely of glass and filled with priceless antiques. There's not much that could go unseen behind the transparent walls except for perhaps 12 pesky ghosts of disturbed folks like onetime mental patients and a kid whose head got in the way of an arrow. It just so happens old Cyrus with the help of his psychic phantom-wrangler Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) has been summoning up a few restless spirits so he can open the Eye of Hell and take over the world or something. They just need one more spirit to finish the job.
All right who's blackmailing Oscar-winner Abraham into taking roles like this? The man should have thrown the script out sight-unseen and then fired his agent. Rah Digga yet another rapper-turned-wanna-be-actress is there to offer some sassy comic relief as the kids' nanny--she's fun in a usual sort of way. Shalhoub-ho hum. Elizabeth? Yawn. She's not even in half the movie. Lillard it can be said is about the only bright spot in this otherwise not-silly-enough not-cheesy-enough not-funny-or-scary-enough horror movie. He's got the right idea as he tries to camp it up as a borderline hysterical psychic who has guilt issues about being able to see everyone's secrets with his "gift." But worst of all is the usually great Embeth Davidtz (um Schindler's List?!) as a--get this--ghost's rights activist who thinks she's channeling Zelda Rubenstein from Poltergeist as she hisses the obvious: "This house is not a house!"
The only thing scarier than F. Murray Abraham taking a role in this movie is that it ever got made at all--then again we have the Dark Castle folks (the same ones who brought us that masterpiece remake The Haunting a few years ago) to thank. They forgot to hire a director and a scriptwriter instead putting visual effects guy Steve Beck behind the camera to show us some semi-interesting special effects (it is a ghost movie after all and you better score some points there). Unfortunately the movie is uneven makes little sense and strives for both laughs and scares but achieves neither with cornball dialog and silly stereotypes; it's wildly gory to boot. Everyone's gonna say the ultra-modern haunted house is the star of Thirteen Ghosts and with good reason. The production design in this movie is amazing and the idea of ghosts hiding behind clear walls is an intriguing if ultimately wasted concept.