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.
Don’t let the previews fool you—Terabithia isn’t anything like Chronicles of Narnia. Based on the Newbery-Award winning children’s novel by Katharine Paterson the story is more about childhood friendships and the way imagination can quite literally open new worlds. Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) sees himself as an outsider at school—and at home. He really only feels himself when he’s drawing. Then he meets the new kid Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) who has just moved from the big city. Despite their differences—she’s rich he’s poor—they become fast friends. Leslie who likes to spin magical stories opens Jess’ eyes to the possibilities and together they create the secret kingdom of Terabithia a mystical place accessible by swinging on an old rope over a stream in the woods near their homes. Interacting with the Terabithian denizens they’ve imagined both evil and good Jess and Leslie learn to deal with the pressures of their young pre-adolescent lives—and learn what the power of real friendship truly means. The young fresh cast really make Bridge to Terabithia work. Robb and Hutcherson are already veteran kid actors: Robb is best known for stealing hearts in Because of Winn-Dixie (another kid novel adaptation) and popping chewing gum as Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while Hutcherson played the tough older brother in Zathura as well as Robin Williams’ kid in R.V. Their acting experience clearly shows as they make the friendship between Jess and Leslie both genuine and heartfelt. There isn’t a false moment in their performances especially from Hutcherson who at first sends off an I-could-care-less vibe but through his soulful eyes becomes more attached to Leslie and their secret place. And as Jess’ little sister 7 year-old Bailee Madison plays the moppet without any cutesy affectations. As far as the adults are concerned stand outs include Robert Patrick as Jess’ stern dad just trying to make ends meet for his family and Zooey Deschanel as the kids’ music teacher who Jess has a crush on. In 1978 author Katharine Paterson wrote Bridge to Terabithia for her then 11 year-old son David Paterson about a special friendship he had. It was an instant hit. Now David all grown up is able to bring his mom’s touching story to life as one of the writers. Talk about a family effort backed by Walden Media--the geniuses behind Holes and Chronicles of Narnia. Directed by Rugrats creator Gabor Csupo Terabithia truly captures the essence of childhood imagination even I dare say more so than Narnia. Maybe it’s because the idea of Terabithia comes from the minds’ of very real children who are going through very real emotions as they enter into adolescence. Csupo keeps the imagery simple allowing audiences to create a fantasy world filled with mythical creatures right along with the film’s main characters. And if you haven’t read the book you might be surprised by the story’s poignancy. In a saturated field of animated duds and kid films better suited as after-school TV specials Bridge to Terabithia stands out as a one of the better family movies to come around in a long time.