August 24, 2010

Piranha 3D

 How in Godzilla’s name did this movie avoid an NC-17 rating? At least half the movie toes the line of softcore porn. The sex I could have managed to live with, but the rest of the movie is incredibly gory. The gore really turned me off, and I don’t have a weak stomach to begin with. 

Don’t get me wrong, I fully expected this movie to have sex and gore—after all, it was marketed as a schlocky summer monster flick with lots of sex and gore. But there is way too much gore and none of the other elements (acting, characters, plot) are entertaining enough to make this movie worth anybody’s time or money. 

Plot Summary

Prehistoric piranha escape from a subterranean lake beneath Lake Havasu (“Lake Victoria” in the movie) and start feasting on spring breakers. Meanwhile, Jake, a police officer’s son, ditches his babysitting duties to go boating with a porn director and some obviously doomed lovelies. The police must try to save the spring breakers from the piranha, and Jake and his love interest must try to survive. In the meantime, the audience must decide if they want to laugh, throw up, or stare at the screen in pained horror.

Vitamin B-Acting: 40%

The movie contains a number of decent actors (Elisabeth Shue and cameos by Christopher Lloyd and Richard Dreyfuss), so the bad acting is not as strong as it would be in, say, the average Syfy Original Movie. Most of the over-the-top acting comes from the porno crew, especially Jerry O’Connell, who plays the director.

(Of course the members of the porn crew die horrible deaths. There’s no way the laws of the B-movie universe would permit porn characters to live.)

That gets the essentials out of the way—now I’m going to take a moment to rant about Christopher Lloyd’s role. He appears as the fish expert version of Dr. Brown from Back to the Future. Any Syfy Original Movie worth its salt would not have hesitated to play up an actor like Lloyd. Christopher Lloyd in that role would have been pure Syfy gold. But he appears for all of THREE MINUTES in Piranha 3D. Three minutes in an 89-minute movie. What a waste.

Oy, did I just make a comparison that makes Syfy movies look GOOD? That just goes to illustrate how bad Piranha 3D is.

Vitamin B-SFX: 50%

Since this is a Hollywood production and not a cheap made-for-TV flick, the special effects are of a better grade. Well, a better grade than a Syfy Original Movie, anyway. Though I hated the movie overall, I liked the design of the piranha. They’ve got the works—evil red eyes, spiky fins, and gills that fan out like the dilophosaurs’ skin flaps in Jurassic Park. My favorite piranha moment was when a captive piranha stared down Christopher Lloyd.

Then…(sigh) I guess I should discuss the use of 3D. This movie does not so much use 3D as it abuses 3D. The 3D exists only for token shots, when the camera will focus on one particular object that is usually disgusting and/or “debris” from a piranha attack. Let me give a few examples of 3D images I really did not need stuck in my head:

1) Jake’s love interest drinks too much alcohol. She runs to the side of the boat, leans over…and we are privileged to see a stream of vomit come out of her mouth in slo-mo.

2) Various body parts from the porno people floating around after piranha attacks. I shall leave it to your imaginations to figure out what those parts were.

Vitamin Fun: 20%

The gore really brought down the fun level for me, especially in the big spring breaker massacre scene.

Sugar: 0%

This movie had absolutely no concern for character development, so no weepy or inspirational moments.

Plot Fiber: 60%

The plot was more “logical” in this movie than, say, Mega Piranha. It does make sense that ravenous prehistoric piranha would head for the largest food source (masses of drunk spring breakers). And subterranean lakes do exist, though not in the way the movie described, and the whole “prehistoric piranha surviving for millennia” thing is implausible.

The real reason this movie gets a higher plot fiber rating is because the plot is so threadbare that it simply doesn’t have much opportunity to veer off into the land of Screwy Logic.

Certain scenes did provoke some burning questions in my mind, though. For instance, I’d really like to know how Richard Dreyfuss’ mangled corpse managed to swim back to the pier…

Pseudoscience Pill

Of course, the piranha waited until that one spring break to emerge from their subterranean lake, and what triggers it? One beer bottle landing on the lake floor. Yeah, right.

Also, in real life, evolution would have still occurred while the piranha were trapped in the “subterranean lake.” They probably would have turned into something more like blind cave fish. But nobody would be interested in blind fish.

That’s about as far as the movie ventures into pseudoscience, so I’m not going to waste any more time analyzing it.

Likelihood of choking: 10%

Political Pill: N/A

August 22, 2010

In Praise of Network TV Censors

The Network TV Censor is an underappreciated person.

We roll our eyes and laugh at the results of their work--such as, for example, when the closed captions say "monkey's mother" instead of a certain curse word in GoodFellas. Or when nude scenes get cut out of famous movies, leaving them with a choppy feel that often spoils the pacing and atmosphere.

But the Network TV Censor is the only thing standing between innocent viewers and the appearance of unholy blights like Piranha 3D that make Syfy Original Movies look like Citizen Kane by comparison.

Thank you, Network TV Censor, for keeping the likes of Piranha 3D off our TVs!

(I will post a more detailed review of Piranha 3D when I've recovered mentally.)

August 19, 2010

Mega Piranha

I have wasted much of my life watching SyFy Original Movies. My repertoire thus far includes such notables as “Wraiths of Roanoke,” “Basilisk: The Serpent King,” and “Supergator.” But “Mega Piranha” has to count among the great Original Movies. It has all the signs of what I consider a superior SyFy Original Movie: total carnage, lots of bad special effects, shameless ripping off from better movies, exploitation of current events/politics for its own purposes, and last but not least, the movie revels in the sheer amount of illogic in its story. While watching this flick, you can just imagine the screenwriters chugging beer and saying things like, “Hey, why don’t we have a piranha swallow a helicopter in one bite? That would be SO AWESOME, man!”


A pack of genetically altered piranha escape from a ‘80s pop idol’s lab in Venezuela and run wild in the Amazon. It is up to beefy Fred Ward-lookalike Jason to outmaneuver an insane Venezuelan army commander and save the world from MEGA PIRANHA!

NUTRITION FACTS:Vitamin B-Acting: 80%

Colonel Diaz (the crazy army commander) gets most of the credit for the high B-Acting levels. When Diaz yells or throws a fit, he comes off like a spoiled brat who needs a straitjacket. Whenever he isn’t shrieking, he spouts conspiracy theories about the Americans conquering Venezuela.

The rest of the cast is notable for its sheer lack of acting. Barry Williams, better known as Greg Brady from “The Brady Bunch,” does his best to look uberserious as Secretary of State, but comes off as bored. (Is it a coincidence that Williams’ character is named “Bob Grady”? Somehow I doubt it.)

Barry Williams searches for his grooviness.
 Jason, played by Paul Logan, gives Williams a run for his money in the “Most Immobile Face” competition.

Sadly, the gun did not get a starring role.
As for Tiffany, the ‘80s pop idol whose cameo SyFy plugged endlessly in teasers? Her character is the most worthless in the movie, and she sets women back 200 years. Though she knows the piranha better than anybody else—at least according to the script—she invariably winds up in hysterics during action scenes, while Jason takes practical steps to deal with the piranha.

She gears up for another round of tears.
 Vitamin B-SFX: 75%

The piranha change size from scene to scene—look, they’re as big as a house! Wait, now they’re smaller than clown cars! Oh, now they’re the size of blue whales!

Not only do the fish shrink ‘n’ grow—they eat steel! Watch them devour entire battleships! They’re also made of steel scales that enable them to survive utterly fake-looking explosions. Have I mentioned that the piranha also explode on contact when they jump into buildings?

If you get a chance to watch the movie yourself, try to keep track of how many times the same piranha shots are reused. (Don’t make a drinking game out of this, or your liver will disintegrate.)

Vitamin Fun: 80%

As with all Syfy Original Movies, this one has a few completely boring scenes. But the piranha action, the colonel’s “acting,” and Jason’s total manliness outweigh the dull bits. Many of the scenes are hilarious—the piranha scenes guarantee a good laugh.

Sugar: 5%

There is some forced romance at the very end, but this movie understands what its purpose in life is: give the audience as much goofy piranha action as possible.

Plot Fiber: 0%

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count all the holes…but here are a few:

1) How can a mud dam hold back steel-eating piranha with the ability to leap over multi-story buildings?

2) Why did Tiffany pick PIRANHA for her experiments?

3) Why would nuclear weapons be particularly helpful against piranha, if the piranha are spread out in the Atlantic Ocean?

4) The ending. It’s tradition for b-movie monsters or their offspring to survive for sequels, but Mega Piranha doesn’t even try to convince its audience that most of the fish are dead. They all seem suspiciously alive and well at the end.


Pseudoscience Pill

How the heck can the piranha keep up their exponential rate of growth? That was the single biggest scientific question the movie raised in my mind. (I’ll politely ignore the “shrinkage” caused by scaling issues.) If I followed the movie’s reasoning, there should be no life within a 100-mile radius of the piranha. They grew so quickly that I found myself wondering if they could suck nutrients straight out of the air through their scales.

It’s pretty basic biology—all living things need a steady influx of nutrients to provide the energy necessary to maintain their bodies, and food consumption jumps during growth periods. (As anyone who has lived with teenagers can attest to.) If this movie had followed the science, the piranha would have quickly run out of adequate food sources and started dropping like mega-flies, or eating each other. Ah, but I’m forgetting that these piranha also eat STEEL, which must be an energy bonanza!

"Your Mega Piranha will need five helpings of steel per day. And lots of hugs."
Tiffany gives us more Mega Piranha “facts” throughout the movie, such as: 1) they are hermaphroditic; 2) they have somehow grown “new organs”; 3) the humans can’t try poisoning or electrocuting the fish, because those methods might make the fish “breed like rabbits”; 4) the fish gestate in six hours; and 5) they absorb nutrients through their skin. (This doesn’t answer my question of whether they can get nutrients out of the air, though.) The best part is that Tiffany came to the last two conclusions through a thirty-second analysis of a tiny water sample.

Oh, and the best of all? The piranha are impervious to nuclear weaponry, and in fact, nukes make them bigger and stronger.

Likelihood of choking: 100%

Political Pill

Colonel Diaz serves as a cartoon version of Hugo Chavez, and the movie plays him against the American characters—with the Americans being the good action heroes, of course.

The UN gets a mention as well. The UN sponsors Tiffany’s experiments, which are focused on increasing protein sources in the Amazon. Thus Tiffany tries to grow bigger fish, resulting in the stars of our movie. I’d hope the real UN would never try such a thing with piranha, of all fish—especially when the Syfy magic dust hangs in the air.

That said, the pseudoscience is far more likely to make your brain explode than the politics. You have been warned.

Likelihood of choking: 65%

August 14, 2010

About the Nutrition Facts

Each b-movie that I watch is subjected to a rigorous and utterly subjective review process. The Nutrition Facts are based on the criteria that I use to measure the badness of a movie. Each Fact is assigned a percentage value (up to 100%), based on the strength of that element in each movie. Generally, the higher a movie's percentage values are, the cheesier it is (with the exception of Plot Fiber). Here are the criteria, with explanations:

Vitamin B-Acting: How much does the acting in the movie suck? What kind of bad acting is it--hamminess, or lack of acting? Which actors are the worst in the movie? The higher the percentage value, the worse the acting in the movie.

Vitamin B-SFX: Measures the quality of the movie's special effects. The more dated, bizarre and/or cheap-looking the effects are, the higher the percentage value. 

Vitamin Fun: Can a viewer actually enjoy watching this movie, or would a week being chased by Supergator be more fun? The higher the number, the more fun it is to watch the movie.

Sugar: How many tearjerkers are there? How much romance will you be forced to endure? The higher this value gets, the more likely the movie will spontaneously rot your teeth.

Plot Fiber: How much sense does the plot make? The lower this number, the cheesier the movie.

Pseudoscience and Political Pills: 

Over time, I noticed that many b-movies contained their own political themes and preposterous scientific theories. These elements are pervasive enough in the b-movie universe that I decided to note them separately in my reviews. Not every movie will have both present, and some will have only one of the two. The supplements will be at the bottom of the Nutrition Facts.

For your convenience, I put a "Likelihood of Choking" calculation at the end of the supplement section. Sometimes the pseudoscience and politics in b-movies are so strong that they're capable of killing innocent viewers...