Piranha and Chips on University Way

Jerry O'Connell in his finest performance yet.

The Dinner: Fish, Chips and a Huckleberry Shake at Mr. Lu's Seafood and Burgers (4752 University Way NE).

The Movie: Piranha 3D at the Neptune Theater (1303 NE 45th St.)

The Screenplate: Piranha 3D looked like one of those movies your average movie critic was absolutely predisposed to revile. For one, it champions two of the most suspect cinematic trends of this young century -- the Horror remake and the 3D movie. Secondly, its director Alexandre Aja has been cast in a bad light after his flawed but promising French debut in High Tension led to a mediocre remake of The Hills Have Eyes and the incredibly underwhelming P2 that was apparently released in theaters.

With the odds stacked considerably against Piranha 3D, it's quite exciting how the underdog eked out a triumph. Using upwards of 80,000 gallons of fake blood, this outrageous sleeper hit has been turning heads of critics and rousing crowds around America to get out of their seats and applaud (or rush to the restroom). At first, I felt felt a little disingenuous putting on sleek black 3D glasses; I really wondered why the old red and blue goggles weren't considered cool enough for audiences to put on in a dark theater to watch projected tits pop off the screen. Once the film got started, it wasn't hard to see why audiences were so responsive.

What changed in between The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D? The short answer lies in self-awareness. Subtle isn't really a word that should be used within 500 feet of any mention of Piranha 3D, but the movie winks at the audience constantly. This wry meta-humor is helped along in no small part to its numerous cameos, including fellow gore enthusiast Eli Roth playing a sleazy spring break emcee who is introduced mere moments before his brutal decapitation-by-flying-boat. Christopher Lloyd also makes a brief appearance as a prehistoric fish expert who chews so much scenery he makes Doc Brown look downright comatose. The movie even begins with Richard Dreyfus drinking "Amity Beer" only seconds before becoming the vicious fish swarm's first meal.

However, Piranha 3D's games don't stop with clever casting. Impossibly cheesy lines pepper the script such as: "I'm like an electric eel; I can get into such tight spaces, it's shocking." There is an almost five-minute-long scene involving lingerie model Kelly Brook and pornstar Riley Steele fondling each other underwater while wearing nothing but scuba flippers. On a few occasions, the CGI piranii even swim up and mug for the camera.

Piranha 3D simply has more fun with the genre than most modern horror films will allow. With the recent deluge of horror remakes, there seems to be a big stress on making the franchise "serious," resulting in surreal products like a Nightmare on Elm Street movie where Freddy Kruger is brooding and melancholy rather than the sociopathic jokester that made the original films bearable. Studios seem so focussed on not having anyone laugh at their product that they seemingly forget to elicit any emotion at all. If that weren't bad enough, horror movies that DO reach for humor do so by becoming unimaginative spoofs that turn charmingly bad passion pieces into a cold comedy abyss of lame pop culture references that are dated by the time the first trailers are released.

If you aren't getting an immediate physical reaction from a horror movie, whether it be laughter, repulsion or spine-tingling suspense, then what's the point?

Piranha 3D takes the horror film audience back to the good old days where one-dimensional characters break down into either sorta-sympathetic characters that move the plot forward or anti-sympathetic characters who you're just waiting to see brutalized. The classically ugly Paul Scheer and a masterfully pervy Joe Francis-pastiche played by Jerry O'Connell provide dramatic tension as audiences await on pins and needles to see exactly what horrible fate will befall them. Avoiding too many spoilers, let's just say it ends with a giant, regurgitated 3D phallus spat out at the audience.

If that wasn't enough, the movie really does have a gut-wrenching core, even if it does take its sweet time getting to it. Once the film has finished building its Spring Break exposition, it lets the fish loose on hundreds of hapless, self-absorbed co-eds who are either instantly pureed or drown each other in a frantic attempt to get out of the meat grinder. By the end of the assault, the waters are flooded with half-eaten bodies and the aforementioned world-record-challenging quantity of fake blood. It's a truly gruesome sight that outdoes any shocking visual I've seen in any American horror film made in the past ten years. The closest parallel I can draw is Saving Private Ryan's recreation of the Normandy D-Day landings, without all of the dignity.

After leaving the Neptune, a brisk walk down University Way leads you to the bright orange building that houses Mr. Lu's Burgers and Seafood: cheap and guilty college eats at their most honest. The small operation is run by the titular Mr. Lu, keeping a steady edge over the Jack in the Box across the street through a familial atmosphere and a wide selection of fried goodness.

The fries have a sogginess to them that you can get lost in. Satisfying might be going to far, but there is a certain zen to letting the ultra-greasy potatoes melt in your mouth in between exuberantly breaded fish. It's not pretty, but a lemon wedge and a big tub of tartar sauce are all the frills Mr. Lu needs for a fulfilling late night meal.

The restaurant itself is decked out with pastel colors, crinkled pictures of various entrees and the implication that the interior is going through a renovation that will likely never end (and I don't mean that in an idealistic, progressive sense). Its appearance matches its helpings, appearing imperfect enough to be quaint without going too far as to instill the fear of salmonella poisoning.

Like horror films, a good fried food depository isn't about how it makes you think, but how it makes you feel. It builds a sense of child-like anticipation followed by decadent, visceral gratification that will probably never be matched by anything that's even remotely healthy for you. With either, there's a good chance you'll end up feeling nauseous -- but in a culture growing increasingly sterile and apathetic, one of the best ways to our hearts may be through an upset stomach.

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