Los Angeles production house The Asylum have become (in)famous over the past few years for shamelessly churning out blatant direct-to-DVD cash-ins on major studio tentpole flicks. Wander into any video store and you’ll find examples of their handiwork on the shelves, bearing such titles as Transmorphers, The Battle of Los Angeles, Street Racer and The Da Vinci Treasure. Creatively speaking, their work is the cinematic equivalent of those knock-off toys you find in two dollar shops. Their films have the ostensible outward appearance of top-shelf Hollywood product, except that they’re made for around 0.3 percent of a Hollywood budget, and rather than a Matt Damon or Brad Pitt, your leads are more likely to be of the C. Thomas Howell or Lorenzo Lamas variety.
Branching out of the usual mode last year with the monster mash Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, the trailer of which became an online sensation, The Asylum has now diversified into similarly cheapjack creature features, which brings us to the latest addition to Cinema Nova’s Cult Cravings programme, Mega Piranha.
When a boat carrying the U.S. Ambassador (writer-director Eric Forsberg), Venezuelan Foreign Minister and a bevy of bikinied senoritas gruesomely goes down in the Orinoco river, the Yanks send in granite-jawed Special Agent Jason Fitch (Paul Logan) to investigate. Obstructed at every turn by the nefarious Colonel Antonio Diaz (David Labiosa), Fitch becomes aware something, eh, fishy, was responsible for the Ambassador’s grisly demise. Sure enough, a team of American scientists, led by “genetics professor” Sarah Monroe (Tiffany. Yes, the eighties pop star…) have, in their well-meaning attempts to boost the Amazon’s seafood stocks, unleashed an especially voracious breed of piranha on the world. In fact, their genes have been so meddled with, that the damn things double in size when they feed. And they feed a lot. Before long, the world – and more specifically, Florida – is facing the threat of piranhas the size of buses. Piranhas that can take down naval destroyers and helicopter gunships, and are especially good at launching themselves out of the ocean and straight into skyscrapers. Hey, it could happen, right?
As energetic as it is idiotic, Mega Piranha is guaranteed to bludgen your frontal lobe into submission. Played with epic – and epically-wooden – seriousness by all involved, this is a film packed with silly dialogue, middling-to-atrocious special effects, and ambitiously ludicrous set-pieces. Eric Forsberg attempts in vain to mask the miniscule budget with rapid fire edits and Tony Scott-like camera moves (to say nothing of an overly colour-graded visual style), while every character is introduced with swooshing title cards and freeze-frames, even when they’re referred to by name immediately after. Maybe that’s the kind of attention span a film like this is aimed at, I don’t know. It’s hard to expect Michael Bay portentousness to really work when you’ve got scenes of devastated buildings with giant fish sticking out of them, though.
Following Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus‘s casting coup of Debbie “Electric Youth” Gibson, Tiffany demonstrates that she has not yet topped her career defining screen role as the voice of Judy Jetson in 1990’s Jetsons: The Movie. Moreover, Forsberg gives the former poppette acres of bollocks science mumbo-jumbo, which she audibly strains to deliver. And she’s called on to deliver a couple of intense cracking-up-under-pressure scenes as well. Reality TV would actually be more dignified by comparision. Continuing The Asylum’s tradition of casting former TV stars in unlikely roles (for previous examples, see William Katt in Alien Vs Hunter, and Jaleel “Urkel” White in Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus), The Brady Bunch‘s Barry Williams (he was Greg Brady, btw) turns up here as Secretary of Defence Bob Grady (Bob Grady = Greg Brady. Geddit?) and, to be fair, he’s actually halfway convincing. That’s not to be confused with actually convincing, but it’s the closest thing to a credible performance in the whole film. Premiering to actually quite respectable ratings on the U.S. SyFy Channel (in fact scoring better numbers than their now-cancelled shows Caprica and Stargate Universe from the same season), this otherwise direct-to-DVD film can now be enjoyed in a cinema – in digital projection, no less – at the Nova.
The Reel Bits: Goofs and production blunders run rampant throughout the film, from extras often looking directly at camera, to a shot repeated some four times during a “tense” scene, to a squad of navy divers all chatting quite easily underwater, despite breather units being jammed in their mouths. But that’s all part of the fun, of course.