Piranhas are found in a handful of rivers in South America. They are usually slightly bigger than a man’s hand, and are widely feared for their ability to eat a 400 pound animal down to the bone in minutes (they occasionally eat the bones as well). Now, what would happen if they started to grow to hundreds of times their normal size? That’s right. They would choke the river with their bodies and die of asphyxiation, and the worst part of it would be the cleanup. Problem is, that doesn’t make for much of a movie, which is why, when he saw a script with the title Mega Piranha, any director with half a brain would have run the other way. Apparently, Eric Forsberg wasn’t that smart.
This movie has the same basic strategy as the Megalodon films; take something people are scared of and make it even bigger. Except that, unlike sharks, piranhas are feared for their tendency to attack in groups, each one taking many little bites. You might as well make a movie about giant germs. This might be the worst movie I have ever seen, but it’s so much fun to make fun of; an excellent candidate for Deathstalkering. So prep your air tank and leave the cap off your de-skeletonizer ointment as we tear into the bloated, drifting carcass that is Mega Piranha!
It starts the way all monster movies start, with a couple picnicking next to the Orinoco river. They go for a swim and get eaten. So far so good. But then, with no break, Forsberg shows us a boat going down the same river. On board is an American ambassador and some other bigwigs. The piranhas actually attack the boat, sinking it. Mind you, we’re less than five minutes into the movie. We then meet Jason Fitch (Paul Logan), some special forces-type guy (that’s all the explanation we get) who is dispatched by the U.S. Secretary of State to investigate the ambassador’s disappearance. Logan has the body for playing a special forces guy, but we’re going to spend most of the movie wondering who taught him to act. It’s as if he watched 30 seconds of a John Wayne movie and tries to recreate it over and over. He doesn’t say his lines so much as bark them out, and every single line is awkward. He makes Gerard Butler’s performance in 300 look subtle and understated. To his credit, though, he does manage to keep a straight face when he delivers the line “It wasn’t terrorists. It was giant piranha.” Fitch has to sneak out of the Venezuelan base where he is staying in order to do his job without a corrupt colonel interfering. He walks around half-bent over in order to show us that he is sneaking, and that he is a sneaky special forces guy. To further emphasize his sneakiness, Forsberg fills this scene with totally random (and pointless) camera wipes from all directions. These wipes cause the guards to go blind right before Fitch walks by. You can actually see guards start to look at him and then quickly turn their heads away.
Following this death-defying escape, Fitch meets Sarah Monroe, a scientist (former pop princess Tiffany, trying desperately to slow the aging process. You can almost hear her thinking “Oh, and I used to sing to sold-out shows. Sob …”). She tells him that the boat was sunk by piranhas, who are getting bigger by the day because they were injected with a serum called O-Hucares, and they will keep growing exponentially until they are (I’m not kidding) the size of a whale. So Fitch teams up with Monroe and her team of nerdy scientists to fight the potentially world-destroying phenomenon of giant piranha.
The abomination that is the special effects in this movie deserves a section all its own. Also ala Meg, Forsberg relies completely on CGI for the visuals. No miniatures, no
animatronics, just cheesy, pixelated images, clumsily bolted over the footage. I don’t hold that a film has to have seamless special effects to be worthwhile, but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to try. And even with a limited budget, a resourceful filmmaker can make decent effects. James Cameron and his crew built only six Alien models for Aliens, but with some creative camera work, they made us believe there were hundreds of them. Similarly, our first ever glimpse of a face-hugger in Alien is simply Ridley Scott’s hands in a pair of gloves. CGI has become an excuse for a lot of wanna-be directors to be lazy. Were model piranhas so hard to come by? Would it have been so hard to use a few five-dollar air hoses to generate the thrashing in the water? Was it so prohibitive to rent one helicopter, instead of the computer-generated blob that we see, then use a split-screen to reproduce it?
Then there’s the editing. Countless times, we see the same footage used over again. At one point, when Fitch’s phone battery dies, Monroe tells him to suck on the battery. We actually watch him do this for close to two minutes.
The stupidities just keep piling up. Once the piranha problem is known, the Venezuelan government actually tries to eradicate the plague by firing lots of missiles into the river. (And you thought W was trigger-happy.) Later, Venezuelan soldiers interrogate a prisoner by smacking him with a phone book. Toward the end, the piranha seem to have not only grown to enormous size, but developed a death wish, as we see them leaping out of the water, and crashing into buildings, resulting in huge explosions! One fish actually impales itself on a light house!
The one thing you can sort-of feel good about in this movie is that nothing was wasted. No good actors poured their talents into a hopeless script. No quality special effects were wasted on a stupid concept. All the components of this movie deserve each other.
There are a couple of lessons we should take away from this. One is that, as we saw in Meg, bigger does not mean scarier. Many things, piranhas included, are scary for their speed, their efficiency, and above all, their invisibility. When they grow to such size that they have to leap out of the water to do anything, and then they explode, it’s stupid, not scary. The other is that incredibly lame monster movies were not limited to the days of the Blacklist. The only thing Mega Piranha has that, say, Invasion of the Saucer-Men didn’t is bad CGI. Hollywood has always spat out tripe, regardless of the political landscape.
As much as I complain about this movie, I have to admit, we had a great time making fun of it. It’s perfect for lampooning. It’s stupid, it’s over the top, there are countless opportunities to insert lines or jokes, and these opportunities are extended by bad editing. And of course, just when you think it can’t possibly ask you to swallow anything more ridiculous than what it already has, it does. From Fitch ninja-kicking a school of piranha back into the river (I’m not kidding) to a school of piranha actually eating an entire destroyer (I’m still not kidding), this is one of those movies you have to see to believe. The one thing that is kind of impressive is how actors say things like “Florida is being attacked by giant fish!” without cracking up. I wonder how many takes they had to do.
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