The original 1978 "Piranha" movie, directed by Joe Dante, is a classic example of B-movie exploitation done right. It was so enjoyable on a guilty pleasure level that even though it was a more than obvious rip-off of his film "Jaws", Steven Spielberg himself convinced the executives at Universal to drop their pending lawsuit against Dante and producer Roger Corman. Now I will never, as long as I live, claim that "Piranha" was a *good* movie. It was a bad movie. But it's what we like to call a "good bad movie." It was corny, preposterous and dimwitted, but it was also a lot of fun and quite humorous. And it was meant to be that. A sequel directed by James Cameron followed a little while after, but then there was a long gap in his franchise. Now Alexandre Aja, who made "Mirrors" (2008) takes the director's chair of a loose remake of the first movie. And just like that awful horror movie of his' that I mentioned, it is well-made on a technical level, but is lacking so severely in so many places, most notably in that adventurous sense of exploitation filmmaking, that it comes off as rather dislikable.
Now I must confess that the first two minutes of the movie got me involved, because it was packed full of references to "Jaws" the movie that inspired the original "Piranha." Fans like me will be delighted to see that familiar face and spot those references. So the opening had me interested; I told myself that I was in for a worthy remake.
Unfortunately, that good feeling only lasted for about another ten minutes.
Alexandre Aja is a good director. He knows how to *film* a good-*looking* movie. His earlier film "Mirrors," though absolutely contemptible, was also very well-directed. Unfortunately, both "Mirrors" and "Piranha" are lacking any real sense of joy and exploitation and they both leave the audience feeling rather empty inside. And if they don't feel empty, they're liable to end up wanting to throw up as they leave the theater. The attacks by the killer fish in the new movie are a lot more gruesome and disturbing than the ones in the 1978 movie. They ought to be; it would be absolutely shameful if they weren't, seeing as how more than thirty years have passed. And Aja was more than willing to be creative with these brutal killings. When the fish attack, it's more than just water being filled with blood. We see bits of flesh being torn off, we see a woman get her scalp ripped from her skull, hindquarters are nipped at (in reference to a scene from the original movie), and so are genital organs.
Now that is being just a little too bold. I'd better warn anybody interested in seeing the movie that although most of these attack sequences are goofy and preposterous, some of them are really quite disturbing, such as the last one I mentioned. These moments are not merely suggested; Aja had his special effects department to let loose all of their perversion and banality.
And frankly, I hope I never have the displeasure of seeing a chewed-up sex organ floating around in the water again for as long as I live.
However, that's just the margin of my complaints. I also have to discredit the filmmakers for the way they continue this unfavorable tradition of bad B-exploitation movies, in which they seem to promote misogynism. Frankly, treating women as sex objects and less-than-human and feeling free to exploit their bodies like gemstones for the perverted members of the audience to gawk at does not amuse me. Again and again throughout the movie, women are stripped naked and examined by the camera. And there is also an incredibly strange lesbian scene shot underwater, which is the most unusual and unsettling love-moment-in-a-void scene since the zero-gravity sex scene of "Sayonara Jupiter."
Now of course, I am fully aware that this is a popcorn movie and was meant to be. There are some good things about it. Like I mentioned before, it is well-directed, the opening scene of the movie really got me interested and the cameo in that moment is really delightful. There are...mostly good performances. Elisabeth Shue, in particular, is very good as the female sheriff of the lakeside town where all the mayhem takes place. Jerry O'Connell, even though he was just hamming his way to a paycheck, was actually quite good as a pornography director shooting his latest smut on the lake. There's also some good acting from Steven R. McQueen and Ving Rhames. The only bad performance that shocked me was from Christopher Lloyd, who I am sure is regretting his decision to make this movie as we speak. Lloyd is such a brilliant actor, as he's proved many times and he will be brilliant again. But this film is thankfully a small aberration in his career.
I say thankfully because I am sure that this remake of "Piranha" will be forgotten before long. If it weren't for a particularly disturbing scene I mentioned (I'll let you guess which one I'm talking about) I would have forgotten about it now, two hours after I left the theater. This movie is really short, so not too much time will be wasted on it for those who choose to see it. However, it is ninety minutes of your life and there are much better movies playing right now. If you really feel that you have to see it, I suggest waiting for a DVD rental date. My main problem with this "Piranha" was that although it had a similar mentality as the original, it was lacking the exploitation joy and adventure that made that movie so much fun. The joy is replaced with libidinous hunger and a really empty feeling.
Oh, and for those who are interested, no, it's not particularly scary....
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