The fun of a decent exploitation horror film is its straight-ahead gore-junkie brazenness the way that it never pretends to be something it's not. When you go into a movie called Piranha 3D, you know just what you want, and in this case the movie delivers. It's trash, but bloody watchable trash. A girl dangling from a hang-glider dips into the water and emerges, all screams, as a dripping stump of a torso. Bodies get sucked down into schools of piranha as though they are being lowered into garbage disposals, and they come up as half-faceless chunks of human sashimi or, in the case of one unfortunate guy, with his legs nibbled down to the bone and his vital organ missing. (Have no fear, it shows up moments later there's no body part in this movie too precious to be fish food.) The piranha themselves are enjoyably gnarly little chomp monsters, with ancient rusty scaled skin and teeth that look like something out of a museum dinosaur exhibit. Given that the movie is set during spring break, with a bounty of topless beauties in full gyrating, head-thrashing, girl-on-girl glory, it might almost have been called Jaws Gone Wild.
Piranha 3D was directed by Alexandre Aja, who made the dull 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes, but this much can be said for his direction here: It's hard to imagine how scenes of mass dismemberment set during a wet T-shirt contest could be staged any better. The youth-bacchanal setting is part of the movie's nostalgic-cheese factor, fusing '70s grindhouse fodder (the original Piranha, directed by Joe Dante, came out in 1978) with '80s party-down fervor. It's like an MTV apocalypse.
I call Piranha 3D ''exploitation,'' rather than a quality scare movie, because it serves up well-timed gross-outs instead of genuine suspense and because the movie has no pretense of providing character, plot, acting, or dialogue that's anything more than boilerplate. It's amusing to see Richard Dreyfuss, in an opening cameo, wearing his wool cap from Jaws, and Christopher Lloyd lends overripe drama to the line: ''This particular piranha...vanished off the face of the earth...two million years ago!'' Jerry O'Connell yuks it up as a soft-core filmmaker obviously meant to evoke the sleazo entrepreneur of a certain nice-girls-are-exhibitionists-too video series, and Elisabeth Shue, as a cop and worried mother, does some vintage furrowed-brow paycheck acting. As for the 3-D, it's not even mentioned in the film's onscreen title, perhaps because the movie wasn't even shot with 3-D cameras. No matter. When there are this many severed body parts in the water, those evil fishies hardly need to be any further in your face. B-