August 26, 2010

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Piranha 3D (R)
Toothy killer fish, great spatters of corn-syrupy blood and naked boobies fill the screen in Piranha 3D, a goofy B-movie.

The movie opens with Richard Dreyfuss, whose character shares the name (Matt Hooper) with his Jaws character, fishing in quiet cove in Lake Victoria, Arizona. After an earthquake creates a passage between that lake and an ancient subterranean lake, Mr. Hooper becomes bait for a vicious swarm of giant-toothed piranhas. Poor Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue), not only is she sheriff in a town being inundated by drunken spring breakers, now she has prehistoric man-eating fish to deal with. Also, baby-sitting problems, as her 17-year-old son, Jake (Steven R. McQueen; yes, really — it’s his grandson), is only begrudgingly watching his little brother, Zane (Sage Ryan), and sister, Laura (Brooklynn Proulx). When sleazy “director” Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) hires Jake to be a location scout for a boat traveling the lake in search of wet T-shirt contests and other examples of girls going wild, Jake agrees and pays his siblings to stay safe at home.

Naturally, this means that just as the piranha attacks begin in full force, all members of Julie Forester’s family are on the water along with her fellow police officer Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames at his Ving Rhamesest), Jake’s love interest Kelly (Jessica Szohr) and Novak (Party Down’s Adam Scott, who is all kinds of awesome) a scientist looking into the earthquake. Even before Christopher Lloyd shows up to play a scientist and give the people critical fish-fighting information, we’ve got a full tilt-a-whirl of crazy names and crazier acting ramping the movie straight up to 1.21 jiggawatts with gore, girl-on-girl-spring-break action and utterly ridiculous-looking 3-D effects.

A little too ridiculous, actually, which got in the way of this movie being the circus of camp it could have been. Piranha 3D gives us a very dark underwater world, one where you really can’t tell which fish is eating which boob. The movie did a full piranha reveal a few times before the shot was actually light enough that I could see what I was supposed to be afraid of (or, really, rooting for). Perhaps the darkness was a cheat to cover some of the iffier effects or perhaps it was an unintended result of the 3-D glasses. Or perhaps it was just the digital print that I saw. Whatever the cause, the movie was frequently muddy and all those dark underwater caves got in the way of my full appreciation of CGI fish eating a mucho macho Ricardo Chavira or stripping the very Halloween-make-up-y flesh off a legion of screaming extras.

Though those things are still fun. As is the horror that is O’Connell’s porn-y villain. As is Shue, who seems to be both into the movie and giving a parody performance at the same time. And I flat out adored Adam Scott, who probably himself adored his one and only shot ever to play the bad-ass.

I blame the 3-D for cutting by about half how much I could have enjoyed this movie. The visual troubles were not worth the extremely low-level thrill (something akin to finding a penny in the parking lot — “oh,” you think, “penny,” and grow slightly annoyed at having to consider whether it’s worth picking up) of having fish or occasionally a boob pop out of the screen. You can keep your extra dimension; in this case, I’d have preferred my cheese flat. B-

Rated R for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use. Directed by Alexandre Aja and written by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg, Piranha 3D is an hour and 29 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Dimension Films.