Fisherman Matt Boyd (Richard Dreyfuss) is out on a lake, enjoying the sun and the peace, and indulging in the odd bottle of beer to pass the time. Suddenly, something jerks on his line, and he reels it in with difficulty - it's a sizeable catch, and he's very pleased, or he is until a loud rumble occurs, and a powerful underwater tremor creates a trench where there was not one before. A whirlpool results, pulling Matt's boat into it even as he struggles to get the motor started and he falls in: during his last moments, he barely has time to register that up from the depths of an underwater lake, a prehistoric strain of piranha have erupted...
Oh dear. And this happens during spring break, that traditional holiday time for Americans, so what with there being a resort nearby the tourists could be in major trouble. Which is naturally the only reason to see this film, and if it was sounding familiar, that was down to the fact that this was yet another horror remake from director Alexandre Aja, this time of the rather good Joe Dante shocker from 1978. That film always had a note of spoof about it, even as it cashed in on Steven Spielberg's Jaws, and so it was here, with Dreyfuss recruited for a role which must have taken a day to shoot, but which indicated the same jokey tone.
Our actual star was Elisabeth Shue, essaying the part of the Sheriff, Forester, whose kids can handily be placed in peril once the attacks began in earnest. Her teenage boy was Jake (Steven R. McQueen), who is meant to be babysitting his two much younger siblings, but gets an offer he cannot refuse when sleazy pornographer Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell) hoves into view and asks him to be his guide to the most picturesque spots around the waterways and lakes. He is happy to oblige, but has to make some excuses, i.e. lies, to his mother to get away with it, and if there's anything all these decades of horror movies have taught us, getting away with something like that is no mean feat.
Which is why Jake is plainly sailing into troubled waters, but he does get to invite the girl he has his eye on but fears is out of his league, Kelly (Jessica Szohr), somewhat reluctantly as it's Derrick who insists on her going along for his own exploitative motives. Soon Jake is out on the lake that we saw Dreyfuss get eaten in, and nobody is any the wiser until it is too late. Aja obviously went all out to create a crowdpleaser, so in a matter of minutes of this happening, he's staging an underwater nude ballet with Kelly Brook and Riley Steele, all very artistic natch, but still pandering to the more prurient tastes of those happy to stump up the cash to see it. Which turned out to be fewer than expected, actually.
Maybe audiences were turned off by the nakedness - not the nudity, but the nakedly trashy methods used to part them from their money; it could be that people are less open about seeing this type of thing if it cannot claim any redeeming features. Unless your ideas of redeeming features involved a massive gorefest that takes up the latter half of the movie, and while the effects that relied on CGI were a bit too unrealistic, the fact that this was a movie about ravenous fish munching their way through an army of extras would not have troubled the documentarians watching. There were a handful of bits that were almost inspired in their bad taste: a girl getting her har caught in an outboard motor only to have her face ripped off, the educational shot that informs us that piranha don't eat silicone, or one character reduced to something that must have been a tribute to that famous Mr Show sketch with the rock band in hospital. Add in Christopher Lloyd's overacting exposition, and this was amusing, but oddly lacking otherwise, as if it needed more brains and less thinly-disguised contempt. Music by Michael Wandmacher.