Movie reviews: Wet 'n wild 'Baywatch' pokes fun at TV series sibling
Published Friday, May 26, 2017 5:27AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 26, 2017 11:32AM EDT
BAYWATCH: 3 STARFISH
On the surface “Baywatch,” the big screen reboot of the cheesy 1980s television show, is about beach bunnies who uncover a criminal plot that may bring with it trouble to the Baywatch lifeguards. That’s the logline, but in reality it’s actually about nostalgia, hard beach bodies and the inestimable charisma of its star (and possible U.S. presidential candidate) Dwayne Johnson.
Johnson takes over for TV lifeguard David Hasselhoff as Californian Mitch Buchannon, the gung ho leader of the elite Baywatch lifeguard squad. “Our team is the elite of the elite,” he says. “The heart and soul of the beach.” He's a beach superstar, so beloved people curve giant sand sculptures in his honour. He keeps the waters safe but there is trouble brewing.
The Bay isn’t drawing them in like it used to and City Council has cut their funding. To stir up some publicity, and perhaps attract a few more bikini clad sunbathers, beach bigwig Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel) hires troubled Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron). He’s the “Stephen Hawking of swimming” with two gold medals but he’s also a troublemaker on probation.
“That's why we can afford him,” says Thorpe. “We got him on his community service.”
Brody butts heads with the Baywatch team—Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) and CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach)—but especially Buchannon. The new guy may be one of the best swimmers in the world but he’s a loner and doesn’t play well with the team. “He's reckless and insubordinate,” says Buchannon.
Despite their differences when they aren't rescuing people from the briny depths the team is forced to come together to uncover a nefarious plot by businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) to privatise the entire bay. “I'm not a Bond villain,” she coos. “Yet.”
Cue the wet and wild action.
“Baywatch” is one of the most popular TV shows of all time and it wasn't because it was a searing examination of the human experience, tinted with dollops of wry humour or shrewdly pointed satire. It was because it featured SloMo teen dreams come to life, cleavage galore and cheesy action.
The movie is a bigger budget version of the same. There’s no real stakes. We know things will get damp and dangerous for Mitch and Company but by the time the end credits roll everything will have sorted itself out and a sequel will be firmly in place. There’s plenty of action, gunfire and juggernauting jet skies but no jeopardy of any kind, just a generic story dressed up in a skimpy bathing suit.
Beyond the sea bound action is a crude sense of fun. The big screen “Baywatch” pokes gentle fun at its small screen sibling. “Why does she always look like she's running in slow motion?” asks new recruit Summer of CJ’s beach gait. “Do you see it too?” replies Ronnie. As the action bounces along the dumb and/or gross jokes begin to pile up threatening to crush the whole thing under their weight.
Johnson brings muscle and comic timing while Efron brings abs of steel and a willingness to do almost anything for a laugh. He doesn’t always hit the mark but you have to give him high marks for leaving his dignity at the door.
The supporting cast aren’t given much to do other than glam it up—in the party scenes—or strip down—in the beach scenes. Kelly Rohrbach, it's time for your (cleavage's) close up. You get the idea. As the overweight and eager Ronnie, Bass is Josh Gadd Lite or maybe an echo of early Jack Black.
Depending on your point of view “Baywatch” is either a mindless summer diversion or a continuation of Hollywood’s exploitation of our collective nostalgia. Judge your interest level accordingly. Either way it fails to grab the raucous good times of “21 Jump Street,” another, more successful TV reboot.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES: 3 STARS
Much has changed in the six years since the Black Pearl’s last voyage. Of late Johnny Depp, the previously beloved star of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” flicks, has been tabloid fodder, his personal life a treasure trove of scandal. Will Depp’s martial and financial peccadillos harm the new movie’s bottom line, sinking the once mighty franchise in a one-way trip to Davy Jones's Locker? Or will Captain Jack Sparrow once again frolic down the plank to titanic grosses? Those are the questions hanging heavy over “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.
“The dead have taken command of the sea. They're searching for Sparrow!”
The new adventure sees a new villain, undead pirate hunter Capt. Salazar (Javier Bardem), unleash an army of ghost sailors from a mysterious nautical underworld called the Devil’s Triangle. His plan is to hunt down and kill every sea going pirate with one name at the top of his list, Captain Jack Sparrow. Seems Sparrow not only doomed Salazar to watery purgatory decades ago but also has a compass that can break the ghost sailor’s hex curse.
“Find Jack Sparrow for me and relay a message from Captain Salazar. Tell him, death will come straight for him. Will you say that to him, please?”
Sparrow (Depp), meanwhile, has lost his mojo. After a wild bank robbery that tore up half of the island of Saint Martin but yielded little in the way of doubloons, Jack loses his luck and his crew. Reduced to helming the Dying Gull, a small and barely seaworthy ship, he must now fight for his life. To survive he has to locate the Trident of Poseidon, a divine artefact that can break any curse at sea. Helping on his mission are Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer with a diary filled with cryptic Trident clues and directions and Royal Navy sailor Henry (Brenton Thwaites).
Also mixed up in the action are returning characters, blacksmith-turned-Captain of the Flying Dutchman Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Turner's wife and Henry's mother, one-legged pirate Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Captain Jack's First Mate Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally).
New comers include witch Haifaa Meni (Golshifteh Farahani) and Paul McCartney as a jokey pirate behind bars, eagerly awaiting a beating.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is more of a linear adventure than the series’ last few instalments. It’s a tale of mysticism and slapstick, a story that freshens up the franchise, although it cannot be denied that the originality and ingenuity of the first movie has turned into a fine mist that colours this movie but has no where near the impact of the original.
Once again Depp slurs and sashays through the movie, getting the biggest laughs. Sparrow is still an interesting character, a debauched scallywag (apparently based on Keith Richards) who appeals to children and adults alike. The embattled actor hams it up, giving audiences what they expect from Sparrow but whether moviegoers still want to see him in his best-known role is hard to say.
Tonally Depp hits the right notes but the movie is all over the place. Kid friendly slapstick is abundant but there is also a fair amount of PG+ swashbuckling, action and swordplay. And don’t get me started on the nightmare inducing zombie sharks.
Parents of small children will want to keep that in mind, and the two-hour plus running time. Like so many tent pole movies “Dead Men Tell No Tales” suffers from more-is-more syndrome. The action is easier to follow than in the Gore Verbinski films but watery climax is too long and a coda, reuniting the characters for one last hurrah, is unnecessary and adds little to the film except for a few extra minutes.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is a crowd pleaser and by far the best of the bunch since the first one. It contains all the elements you expect from the “Pirates” franchise and even a few you don’t but takes on water in its final half hour.
PARIS CAN WAIT: 2 STARS
Road trip movies can be divided between stories about existential journeys of the soul and scenic tours through picturesque landscapes. “Easy Rider” vs “Around the World in 80 Days.” You can have both. Witness “Y Tu Mama Tambien” or “Into the Wild,” as movies that make statements about transitory nature of life and love, set against a backdrop of eye-catching countryside.
Director Eleanor Coppola’s “Paris Can Wait” certainly has the scenery—you can almost smell the croissants—but forgets to give us a reason to care. As an ad for the French Riviera Tourist Bureau it works. As a big screen movie experience it’s a good ad for the French Riviera Tourist Bureau.
Diane Lane is Anne, wife of loudmouth film producer Michael (Alec Baldwin). When he interrupts their trip to Cannes to stamp out a fire on a film set in Morocco she must stay in France. Plagued by an ear infection she can’t fly but wants the peace and quiet of an old friend’s apartment in Paris. When Michael’s producing partner Jacques (Arnaud Viard), a free-spirited hedonist, offers to drive her, she accepts.
“Driving is the only way to see a country,” he says.
At first she’s impatient, wanting to get from a to b as quickly as possible but soon she’s seduced by Jacques’ joie de vivre as they make frequent detours to enjoy the country’s copious charms. With every restaurant, historical sight, glass of wine and bite of fancy food she relaxes. “Let’s pretend we don’t know where we’re going or even who we are,” he says. Soon she finds the attention Jacques showers on her is something she’s missing in her marriage.
Coppola has done something remarkable. She has found a way to make Provence and the Brittany dull. For as sensual as the food looks the film’s languid pacing does no favors for the road trip part of the story. It’s like a food network special with movie stars; a travelogue whose pretty pictures are interrupted by Jacques’ stream of consciousness history lessons.
“I did not know that my tour guide,” she responds to another of his touristy tidbits. You probably won’t know much of this trivia either and by the middle of the movie you likely won’t care. Where are “The Trip’s” Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon when you need them?
THE TRANSFIGURATION: 3 STARS
When we first meet “The Transfiguration’s” lead character, fourteen year old Milo (Eric Ruffin) he’s drinking the blood of his latest victim. He’s not a vampire as such; he’s simply a confused kid, orphaned and alone save for his brother Lewis (Aaron Moten). At night he passes the time watching horror movies—“Let the Right One In,” “Near Dark” and “Shadow of the Vampire” are his favourites because “they’re realistic”—and, more troublingly, videos of animals being tortured. He’s serious about bloodsuckers—“Vampires don’t twinkle,” he says dismissively—because he thinks he is one.
“I think it starts with drinking blood,” he says. “Like you need to. It’s like when you have a cut on your finger as a little kid and you’re sucking on it. Eventually that’s not good enough. So you switch to animals and then people. You change a lot after the first person you kill.”
One night a month he indulges his blood thirst, killing and draining a victim, only to suffer a nasty plasma puke after each attack. The quiet loner is drawn out of his shell with the arrival of Sophie (Chloe Levine), a teen who lives with her abusive grandfather on the ninth floor of their apartment block. They connect almost immediately and that intimacy brings with it a change in Milo’s metamorphosis. It’s Dracula and Juliet, a love story with high stakes.
There are kills and some gore in “The Transfiguration” but it can’t rightly be called a horror film. It’s more a psychological drama examining the dark corners of Milo‘s mind. He’s a tortured soul but Ruffin plays him with an unsettling sincerity that underscores the inner rage that drives his fascination with death.
Levine, as an equally lost soul but without the deadly streak, is the film’s heart. Beaten down, she plays Sophie as someone who hasn’t given up, who still has hope. It’s a grounded, naturalistic performance in a film that values understatement over grand gestures.
“The Transfiguration” is a downbeat slow burn, a movie that for better and for worse takes it’s time with Milo and Sophie’s story. Director Michael O’Shea could have revved up the pacing but his storytelling is uncompromising, Margaret Chardiet's electro score is anxiety inducing and the performances, while unfussy, reveal deep reservoirs of emotional depth.