POSTED ON AUGUST 25, 2010:
Maybe Two for Three?
Piranha 3D, Lottery Ticket and The Human Centipede meet expectations -- which isn't really good
Torn to Shreds. Ving Rhames plays a deputy who must fight for his life and help defend the town of Lake Victoria and its several visiting partiers from awakened, blood-thirsty piranhas in Piranha 3D.
I take back everything I ever said about 3D being a useless gimmick. Nude, girl-on-girl, underwater ballet might still be possible without it, but it wouldn't be the same.
With Piranha 3D, director Alexandre Aja takes the guilty pleasure 1977 original and puts it on steroids in this gloriously gratuitous, completely trashy ode to its exploitive Roger Corman roots.
You know what you're in for in the opening scene, which finds Richard Dreyfuss fishing on peaceful Lake Victoria, drinking Amity beer (the name of the town in Jaws) and singing "Show Me the Way to Go Home." It's literally the final moments of Matt Hooper when a minor earthquake opens a rift to a prehistoric subterranean lake that's been isolated for eons. Soon Hooper is minced to death by blood-thirsty, Cenozoic, flesh-eating piranha.
Of course, the nearby town of Lake Victoria is in the midst of Spring Break revelries, and the beaches are packed with drunk, horny, party-goers engaging in wet T-shirt contests and nude water sports, while under the watchful eye of Sheriff Julie Forester (Elizabeth Shue) and her deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames).
Her son Jake (Steven R. McQueen, yep, that's Steve McQueen's grandson) is approached by Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell), a sleazy, Joe Francis-type who's filming a Girls Gone Wild knock-off on a yacht with two gorgeous strippers (the mind boggling Kelly Brook and porn star Riley Steele). He wants to enlist Jake as a location scout and won't take no for an answer.
Jake is playing aloof to his friend Kelly (Jessica Szohr), the girl he actually pines for, so he decides to take the job to make her jealous; despite the fact his mother has tasked him with babysitting his younger brother and sister. Jake bribes the kids into staying home, while he enjoys a little life on the wild side.
Of course they don't, and everything goes to bloody, topless, gore-soaked Hell.
Piranha 3D is raunchy, cheesy, totally predictable schlock. And I loved just about every frame of it.
It actually represents a stark tonal shift for director Alexandre Aja. His previous films (High Tension and his brutal re-make of The Hills Have Eyes) saw the Frenchman bring the uncompromising intensity of the new wave of French horror to American shores, crafting two films that were intense and unapologetically violent, while showcasing a knack for some truly unique kills.
Here he jettisons his usual tone of dark, genuine dread and just amps up the B-rate fun with joyously ridiculous levels of nudity and gore. Aja flings everything at the screen from hordes of questionable CG maneaters and hot girls jumping on trampolines to Jerry O'Connell's mangled penis with shameless abandon and an admirable disregard for anything resembling good taste, all in glorious 3D.
I've seen tons of films that pushed the envelope in this regard but never like this. Piranha 3D is audacious. I'm honestly surprised at what they got away with while keeping an R-rating.
Performances are just what you'd expect. Everyone knows what kind of movie they are making, and they embrace it with tongues planted firmly in cheeks (some Human Centipede foreshadowing for you). But even if they were terrible, that would have been just about the only criticism I could have leveled at this alarmingly entertaining exploitation blast.
I'm even reconsidering my stance on 3D televisions now.
Take Your Chances
I liked Friday a lot better the first time I saw it.
While not exactly the same, much of the Ice Cube-produced, Bow Wow-starring Lottery Ticket reads like a tired, re-tread of the 1995 F. Gary Gray stoner comedy -- minus the weed and much of the talent.
Bow Wow is Kevin, a footwear obsessed kid living with his grandmother (Loretta Devine) and trying to do right in the projects of Atlanta.
The film's opening sequence introduces us to the neighborhood's denizens, while he's on his way to work at a local shoe store (indeed, Nike probably provided half the film's production budget in product placement alone).
There's Kevin's best friend Benny (Chris Tucker stand-in, Brandon T. Jackson) and his almost girlfriend Staci (Naturi Naughton) as well as Debo-replacement, Lorenzo (Gbenga Akinnagbe), a newly released ex-con who strikes fear in everyone. Then there's Mr. Washington (Cube), a hermit prize fighter who likes to say "Protect yourself at all times."
Anyway, Kevin plays his grandmother's lottery numbers for her and decides to buy a ticket himself, using the numbers from a fortune cookie. Naturally, he wins $370 million. The catch? The lottery commission is closed over the Fourth of July weekend, so Kevin has to figure out a way to survive in the 'hood once his loud-mouth gammy blabs about the ticket, which he can't cash in for three more days. Smart.
I'll say this, Bow Wow isn't bad. He's obviously aiming for a Will Smith trajectory, though my advice to him would be drop the name. If the Fresh Prince and The Rock can do it, so can you, Bow Wow.
Other than that, the Lottery Ticket is a wash of clichéd dialogue, stereotypical characterizations and unfunny attitude that wants to coast on the re-hashed "neighborhood comedy/drama" tropes of better films such as Friday and, to a degree, Do The Right Thing. There is a nice message under it all about friendship, self reliance and integrity, but it gets buried by shopworn banalities, predictable plotting and half-assed performances.
I could forgive it if there were any laughs to be had, but the whole affair reeks of generic exercise without any ambitions toward individuality (and the other films in this column are chock full of that). Terry Crews, as Kevin's bodyguard, seemed like the only actor involved who got close to making some of the comedic elements connect on sheer timing alone, but he's on his own in a wilderness of shallow writing and Charlie Murphy.
It's been a sad summer for comedy in 2010 (aside from The Other Guys), and Lottery Ticket winds up being another casualty. It did inspire me to buy some Powerball numbers after the show, though.
Attached at the Hip
I guess at some point writer/director/producer Tom Six decided that if he wanted to see a movie about a mad scientist who conjoins three unfortunate people into one continuous digestive tract done right, he'd probably have to do it himself.
Not many horror movies get under my skin anymore, but with The Human Centipede, Six not only got under my skin, he made me want to crawl right out of it. There's really no other way to say this: The Human Centipede is depraved.
And, yes, that is a wondrous thing.
Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) are two annoying American tourists in Germany who wind up stranded in the woods when their car blows a tire.
Rain-soaked and cold, they find themselves on the doorstep of a famous surgeon, Dr. Heiter (the incredibly creepy Dieter Laser), who takes them in.
Heiter made his fortune in separating conjoined twins, but an insane compulsion and his hatred of people is pushing his research in the opposite direction, and now Lindsay and Jenny are to become his latest subjects.
After drugging his victims and confining them in his basement lab, the doctor reveals his twisted plan: slicing the ligaments in their knees and sewing them together, anus-to-mouth, with a third poor soul, Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura) into one, shared digestive system, which he dubs The Human Centipede.
And if you have the stomach for it (no pun intended), the results will send shivers up your spine. You will cringe. You will flinch. And you will probably wonder what the hell is wrong with Tom Six -- and Germans.
Much of the revulsion is psychological and -- though there is no shortage of gag-worthy make up work going on -- Six spends as much time letting the implications of his twisted story sink in as he does dwelling on the Conenbergian body horror aspects of the Centipede.
Heiter trains them like a human dog, teaching them to crawl in unison, to bring him the paper and such. When Katsuro finally succumbs to hunger and eats (from a dog bowl, of course) the ramifications for the next two people in line are made horrifically clear as Six delights in making the audience squirm. It's not subtle, but Six relies as much on implied horror as he does stomach-churning FX work.
The (amazingly brave) actors aren't given much to do here, but they all play angry and horrified well enough. Williams and Yennie aren't particularly good, but I suppose choices are limited when it comes to a story like this, and irrelevant considering they spend a majority of the film with their faces sewn to someone's butt.
The real revelation here is Dieter Laser. The tall, cadaverous Laser has a face like a mash up of Robert Z'Dar and Boris Karloff, and the voice of a malevolent, reptilian Inquisitor. He's just about impossible to take your eyes off of and turns in a performance that puts him in the pantheon of great cinematic psychos from Hannibal Lecter to Frank Booth. Simply mesmerizing.
Clearly, The Human Centipede is directed at a breed of horror lover that revels in cinematic extremes. Unless you consider yourself one of them, all I can say is: You've been warned.
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