Friday, March 18, 2011


“Mega Piranha” (*** out of ****) is another one of those hilarious knock-off epics from Asylum Studios. Of course, these legendary cheese-meisters were exploiting French director Alexandre Aja's big studio 3-D remake of Joe Dante's “Piranha,” but writer & director Eric Forsberg has taken the concept far beyond the outrageous. Mind you, nothing about this outlandish opus is either remotely plausible or frightening. Indeed, not only Asylum has delivered a derivative creature feature with enough cinematic sophistication to make the grade as a horror parody, but it has also managed to provide moments of comic brilliance that surpass the films that it mocks. The setting, the subject matter, and the genre are also reminiscent of the "Anaconda" franchise and its hokey sequels. Okay, the computer-generated piranha look pretty goofy, but these piranha are supposed to look spurious. Only the most gullible will suffer traumatic after-effects when they bathe alone in a tub. In another one of those hideous scientific experiments gone awry, scientists have created a strain of piranha that mutate into an indestructible predators that double in size and threaten world safety. Forsberg's genius, however, is the way that his actors and he maintain a straight face throughout with moments of over-the-top hilarity that stand out all the more because those moments are so incredibly illogical. These moments are comparable to a Marx Brothers farce because they are so broadly anarchic. Specifically, these moments are reminiscent of Groucho's grease paint mustache that always infuriated literal-headed studio heads because they didn't grasp the comic incongruity of an obviously ersatz mustache when they felt that real one could have been grown.

“Mega Piranha” opens like the classic movie “Jaws” with a gal who goes skinny dipping with her boyfriend. No sooner do they hit the muddy Orinoco River than ravenous piranha hit them. Along come a U.S. diplomat, Ambassador Arnold Regis (Eric Forsberg of “Alien Abduction"), and a Venezuela politician on a boat with a couple of big-breasted, bikini-clad babes. While they were discussing politics, the toothsome fish attack, gnaw holes in the hull and make a feast out of them. Just to emphasis how little that he takes himself seriously, Forsberg himself is an early victim of the piranha. U.S. Secretary Grady (Barry Williams of “The Brady Bunch”) alerts buff Special Forces operative Jason Fitch (Paul Logan of “Cannibal Taboo”) by web cam. According to Grady, Venezuelan Junta Commander Colonel Antonio Diaz (David Labiosa of “The Entity”) believes that terrorists blew up the politicians. Furthermore, the CIA fear the incident may spark an anti-American military coup. This is Forsberg mimicking other films and establishing a somber tone, like this is a serious horror opus. “I need you to check out that river bottom and tell me what really happened before we have another Afghanistan on our hands.” Fitch catches a commercial flight to Venezuela. Before Fitch arrives, UCLA genetics researcher, Dr. Sarah Monroe (plump pop vocalist Tiffany), wildlife biologist Eli Gordon (Jesse Daly of “Another Gay Movie”), and microbiologist Brian Huggins (Jude Gerard Prest of “Teen Vamp") conduct their own investigation and uncover the ugly truth. Piranha are growing at an exponential rate, and they are scheduled to triple their size in 36 hours. Indeed, disaster looms for everybody. Unlike a Troma studios parody, "Mega Piranha" lives up to its hype. These piranha get really gigantic.

When our highly-decorated hero lands in Venezuela, a desperate Monroe accosts Fitch at the airport and warns him that Diaz is close-minded and paranoid. Fitch discovers this fact for himself later. Meantime, she explains that she had been conducting hydro-biological experiments. Basically, this means that Monroe and her colleagues have been escalating the size of the local food supply by genetically re-designing species of marine life to make them more robust. She was involved specifically with piranha. What? Why create bigger, meaner piranha? This is another of those brilliant moments deliver with a straight face. Who in their right mind would breed bigger, badder piranha!? Predictably, those carnivorous piranha escaped captivity and began breeding. Monroe hands him a fragment of the boat hull. Fitch can find no trace of explosives in the sample. Diaz takes Fitch for a chopper ride over area where the boat sank, but he refuses to let him investigate. Moreover, Diaz confines Fitch to the base. A stealthy Fitch slips off the base and gets a local to take him up river. Donning scuba gear, Fitch plunges into the river and swims up to the Arawak Indian Dam in an Orinoco Inlet where he encounters the pugnacious piranha. At first, he slashes at them with his knife. In a shrewd bit of foreshadowing, writer & director Eric Forsberg sets up the ending as the omnivorous piranha converge on the wounded fish and maul it. Fitch wades ashore. A single piranha pursues him with a vengeance. The fish lunges at him, and he stabs it repeatedly until it dies. Fitch slams the dead flesh-eater on Diaz’s desk and the colonel cannot believe his eyes.

The scientists inspect Fitch’s specimen and learn it possesses two hearts, triple-thick skin and is an hermaphrodite! Meaning, it can replicate by itself. Since the piranha are holed up behind a natural dam, Higgins recommends they drain the estuary before the fish grow large enough to escape. Instead, the villainous Diaz launches a helicopter assault. They blast the bejesus out of the river, but the fish survive. Of course, Diaz doesn’t realize the error of his ways. All he knows is the secretive scientists are responsible so he arrests them. He tortures poor Dr. Huggins. Meanwhile, the resilient piranha really begin to grow. Fitch helps Monroe and her associates escape. However, the piranha are heading up river by leaps and bounds. The scientists believe the fish cannot enter the ocean because piranha are fresh-water inhabitants and salt water will kill them. Imagine their surprise when the piranha ignore this genetic trait. Grady arranges for a destroyer to blast the fish. Predictably, the piranha survive the bombardment, gobble the ship, and enter the ocean. Now, the piranha are heading for Miami and Grady dispatches a submarine to torpedo them.

Scenes of piranha leaping out of the sea and smashing into buildings like suicide bombers with explosive crashes will make you laugh until your ribs hurt. The scene where Fitch is on his back, cycling his legs in the air so that his boots strike piranha as they pounce on him makes this alone worth watching. Make no mistake, these fish make formidable fiends, and Colonel Diaz amounts to a melodramatic villain. Nevertheless, the treacherous Diaz gets his just deserts. Another way of putting it is he becomes a just dessert for the fish. Before this 93-minute schlock concludes with its happy ending, these gluttonous fish gnaw up a U.S. Navy destroyer, an Ohio Class submarine--the U.S.S. Florida, and a helicopter hovering over the ocean! This in itself is reminiscent of director Enzo G. Castellari's "Jaws" rip-off "The Last Shark" (1981), aka "Great White," with Vic Morrow. Shots of these piranha sailing over the heads of our heroes is another reason to chuckle. If you’re going to take an idea to the absolute maximum, you must trash every modicum of credibility, and the Asylum people have done with grand gusto. Every character constitutes a hopeless stereotype, but Forsberg never lets the action loiter. He relies on swift editing and the equivalent of jump cutting. The imagery of a school of piranha bounding down river like championship jumping horses is side-splitting. Former "Brady Bunch" trouper, Barry Williams anchors the action with his pragmatic performance. Unlike sci-fi mutant movies of the 1950s that justified themselves as cautionary tales about science run amok, “Meg Piranha” harbors no such pretensions. This film is fun for fun’s sake. The computer-generated imagery won't receive any Oscars, but it is adequate enough for this drivel. Viewers who demand credibility should probably forego this half-baked fish yarn. “Mega Piranha” qualifies as so bad that it’s good!