What is there to say about a film like Piranha? With no ambitions beyond the desire to disgust, amuse and titillate in equal measure, the remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 Jaws cash-in is pure exploitation fare through and through. Director Alexandre Aja’s killer fish B-movie stays faithful to its Roger Corman roots, boasting a meagre budget, low rent special effects and absolutely no shame. No wonder it has been so well received by some critics: with a refreshing lack of pretension, it goes about its business with a minimum of fuss and leaves before it outstays its welcome.
What the remake lacks however, which John Sayles’ original script slotted in amongst the carnage, is a streak of satire or subversion. Originally the product of military genetic experimentation (in a pitifully desperate attempt to win the Vietnam war), the new piranha are now a Lost World of prehistoric survivors, released in to an Arizona lake via a well-placed earthquake. It may not have been a stinging commentary about a corrupt government’s foreign policy, but Piranha 1978 did raise a sly finger in that direction. Piranha 2010 probably couldn’t even spell the word corrupt.
That’s not to say it is without a sense of humour. Events kick off in a way the original could only have dreamt of: with Richard Dreyfuss, dressed as his Jaws character Matt Hooper, fishing on the aforementioned lake, while “Show me the way to go home” plays on his pocket radio. It’s an amusing tribute to the film the original Piranha emulated so well, and a good many others ripped-off with considerably less success. In fact it’s a shame that the scene doesn’t go on for longer, but perhaps it doesn’t quite trust its audience’s memory to stretch as far back as 1975.
From there it’s down to the real business at hand, namely the quickest route to undress and disembowel its cast. Elisabeth Shue’s Sheriff and deputy Ving Rhames try to keep the peace in the lakeside town besieged by bright young things during the Spring Break festivities. Her eldest son Jake (Steven R. McQueen – yes, grandson to THE Steve McQueen) is roped in to piloting a boat for porn director Jerry O’Connell and his two ‘actresses’, Kelly Brook (not as bad as you’d think) and Riley Steele. When Shue manages to catch one of the killer critters alive, she takes it to local expert Christopher Lloyd (reprising his patented Doc Brown loony scientist routine), who informs her that nothing like it has been seen on the planet for over 2 million years – and when Lloyd says that to you, you really believe it.
Meanwhile, Brook and Steele perform a spontaneous nude underwater ballet that really should be taken to the Royal Opera House at the next available opportunity – a sure way to counteract any Arts Council funding cuts. Naturally, the piranha and their extreme weight-loss programme turn up to spoil the show, and from there they head towards the town harbour where lots of tasty teens have just put themselves on the menu. Carnage ensues, and if you’re at all squeamish then prepare to cover your eyes more than once. The ratio of bloody injuries to naked babes is roughly 2:1, but there’s more than enough of both to satiate even the most jaded teenaged horror fan.
As with most blockbusters this year, the 3D is a complete non-event. Most of the time it’s not even noticeable, and when it is discernible it looks either ineffectual or completely stupid. In a way, it simply adds to the film's slightly nostalgic charms – remember when 3D was all about poking long things in to the camera? Well, so does Piranha.
But really, who cares? Piranha knows exactly what sort of film it is and how to please its audience. Exploitation entertainment is all about value for money, and Piranha, with its tongue ever so slightly in cheek, ticks more than enough boxes to qualify as a success.