Piranha 3D Directed by Alexandre Aja Written by Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg Starring: Elizabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen and Jerry O'Connell Rating: **
The oil leak in the Gulf this summer brings an entirely coincidental topicality to new schlock horror movie, Piranha 3D. In the fictional version, the threat isn't from fossil fuel but the escape of a supposedly extinct fish: When an earthquake opens up a chasm in the bottom of a popular resort lake, thousands of oversized, ravenous piranhas join the hard-partying Spring Break college kids in a wet and wild flesh fest.
A brazenly outrageous bit of counter-programming to the summer's more polite late August fare, the movie could be called Eat Prey Gush. French director Alexandre Aja ( High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) finds the right tongue-in-cheek tone, with a self-aware sense of the movie's absurdity. Piranha 3D is more funny than disgusting, even when screen fills with half-nude swimmers, bobbing like human dumplings in a roiling vat of borscht. This isn't just sick, it's clas-sick!
The script by Peter Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg ( The Sorority Killings) riffs off the original 1975 summer blockbuster, Stephen Spielberg's Jaws, and the original Piranha, a Roger Corman-produced 1978 mini-Jaws parody. There are even a few actors you might know, including Leaving Las Vegas Oscar-winner Elizabeth Shue, looking MILF-y (as in Mother I'd like to Fish with) in a form-clinging khaki law-enforcement uniform, as Sheriff Forester. Along with her deputy (Ving Rhames), she's trying to retain order in the community as hordes of drunken, randy college kids on Spring Break descend on the resort town of Lake Victoria, Arizona.
The single-mom sheriff has a 17-year-old son. Jake ( Vampire Diaries star Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the sixties action star of the same name) and a couple of bait-sized little blonde children who Jake is supposed to babysit. Instead, Jake decides to go on a yacht trip as a location scout for a sleazeball film director (Jerry O'Connell), in a Girls Gone Wild-style video shoot. Jake's joined by his almost girlfriend, Kelly (Jessica Szohr), who wants to protect him from the giant-breasted maneater in the film's cast, including British pin-up Kelly Brooks.
Notable cameos include Christopher Lloyd as a wild-eyed ichthyologist, (essentially reprising his Doc Brown role from Back to the Future) and, in a brief cameo, Richard Dreyfuss, star of the original Jaws. Adam Scott, hiding behind oversized glasses and beard, plays the equivalent to Dreyfuss's scientist character here, offering such insights as: "There are thousands of them and they're pissed."
The actors, except for O'Connell, play it as a straight thriller though suspense isn't too important here. Neither do the 3D effects feel particularly essential. The piranhas, which resemble saw-toothed penises, torpedo the camera occasionally but typically, the depth effects are used for various body expulsions (barfing into the camera, for example) as part of the overall comic gross-out goal.
Still, director Aja cannot be accused of a complete lack of restraint. Though there are few anatomical parts that escape the teeth of terror, I can't recall any moment, in the whole swirling red miasma, when the 3D piranhas and triple-D breasts meet directly. Some flesh is just too sacred.