Baywatch (Full Review)

If you’re like me, you remember the concept of Baywatch more than the actual show. David Hasselhoff and women in skin tight swimsuits solved crimes as lifeguards on the beaches of Los Angeles. Somehow that was a premise good enough for over a decade of television episodes. If there’s a property that seems ripe for a comedic parody film, it’s this one.

Baywatch_posterIn this adaptation of Baywatch, Dwayne “The Hulk” Johnson takes over Hasselhoff’s role of head Emerald Bay lifeguard Mitch Buchannon, whose job becomes a bit more frustrating after his boss (Rob Huebel) sticks him with arrogant Olympic Swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron). When a club owner (Priyanka Chopra) begins smuggling drugs on their beach, Mitch and fellow lifeguards Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), Summer (Alexandra Daddario), and chubby oddball Ronnie (Jon Bass) take on the role of self appointed beach vigilantes to try and stop her, much to the dismay of actual area policeman, Garner Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Marketing itself as a comedy for wide audiences and not just fans of the television series, poking fun at the fact that the original cast carried themselves as if they were filming Law and Order, and not a cheesy drama that was just a reason for people to gawk at supermodels, should’ve offered the opportunity for heavy laughs. And yet, the cast of this film version of Baywatch operate almost exactly like their small screen predecessors. Throughout the movie, it is reinforced that this should be a job for the police and that Mitch and his crew are out of their league. Instead of at least crafting a resolution to show that both sides could help each other in protecting the bay, the movie ends up being a tale of superhero lifeguards who can and will recklessly take matters into their own hands with positive results. And maybe that was the point, for Dwayne Johnson and cast to embrace the ridiculousness of the source material by attacking it with the same seriousness. The problem with that is that it makes Baywatch the movie as terrible as the TV show.

Instead of being a spoof, the film wants to be an action movie with self-reverential humor and carries itself as if its rescue sequences are actually intensely thrilling. But the entire time it just feels like you’re being told a boring, over exaggerated story that might be more interesting if you were a lifeguard. It doesn’t help that many of the scenes don’t feel remotely realistic due to an overuse of green screen, which just seems lazy considering the movie is set on an LA beach.

Occasionally the movie makes up for its atrocious attempt at being exciting by throwing in some good laughs. But there aren’t as much as you’d think. The movie follows my comedy pet peeve of having its biggest laughs in its trailers and too often it relies on gross out humor or Jon Bass’ character being the awkward antithesis of the typical Baywatch lifeguard. And it’s a shame, because we know from past films like Central Intelligence and Neighbors that Johnson and Efron are capable of being hilarious with both delivery and physical comedy.

So if you’re expecting a comedic parody, you’ll only be satisfied about 20% of the time. As for the purists, I’ve never met an actual fan of the TV show so I don’t know if it’ll be pleasing to them. Sure, the men look like gladiators and the woman are stunning, but who the hell cares if you have to sit through two hours of lousy plot and cheesy action?

FINAL GRADE: D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

The Fate of the Furious (Full Review)

Hi, my name is Brady and I am not a fan of Fast and the Furious. I have my reasons: The action is often so over the top that it borders on dumb. Vin Diesel has the personality of a cardboard box. Tyrese’s character is just a useless clown. And the convoluted plots seem as if they were created by watching a kindergartner play with action figures. But, at its best, this franchise that has now spanned 16 years is young Expendables with eye popping action meant for mindless, “turn your brain off and watch” fun. So whether I like it or not, here we go again.

The_Fate_of_The_Furious_Theatrical_PosterThe Fate of the Furious takes place shortly after Furious 7 (If you are a newcomer to the series, you’ll need to have seen at least parts 5 through 7 to understand half of it). After marrying girlfriend Letty (Michele Rodriguez), crew leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is approached by a terrorist hacker named Cypher (Charlize Theron) who blackmails him into turning on his team. Kurt Russell returns as Mr. Nobody, a U.S. government agent who along with his new assistant (Scott Eastwood), assembles Toretto’s former team of thieves, cops, hackers and street racers, (Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Tyrese Gipson, Nathalie Emmanuel) to track him and Cypher down.

The first third of the film is almost gag inducing to anyone who shares my same sentiments about this franchise. As always, there’s a next to irrelevant and predictable street race to open the film, followed by rushed exposition, Dwayne Johnson being a real life version of The Hulk, and Tyrese’s Roman Pearce continuing to be one of the most useless characters in all of cinema. We get it. He’s comic relief, but what is his actual purpose on the team? In this film it takes him two hours to do anything worthwhile. When the cast isn’t shoving the constant concept of family down your throat (Hey guys, did you know they’re a family!), the characters are spitting out cliché line after line.

But about an hour in, things shockingly improve. This is due in large part to the presence of Charlize Theron who noticeably brings her A-game as the film’s villain. Her cunning and ominously intimidating character seems plucked right out of a James Bond movie and provides the fuel for all of the film’s most dramatic scenes. Her portrayal even lifts that of Vin Diesel who easily gives his most believable performance yet. That’s not to say things improve too much. There’s still a bunch of off the wall plot twists and ridiculous character arcs (Jason Statham’s a good guy now? Didn’t he kill one of their “family members”?) that keep things from being too likable.

Like with all of these movies, and most in the genre, things work best when everyone shuts the hell up and drives/fights. The action manages to ramp things up to even more ridiculous levels than in previous films and as such there are plenty of moments where logic and laws of physics be damned. But seeing as how making sense isn’t a prerequisite for entertainment, the action in Fate of the Furious is pretty exciting. Coupled with a worthy adversary that helps counterbalance some of the more useless additions (Looking at you Scott Eastwood), this movie manages to avoid being terrible and winds up landing on the more tolerable end of the Fast and Furious spectrum.

FINAL GRADE: C

Moana (Full Review)

Back in 2010 Disney’s Tangled wound up being a surprise hit and thankfully resurrected the animated musical. Then in 2013, Frozen took the world by storm and fully solidified the return of the genre. Now that the animated musical’s swagger is back, the family juggernaut that is Disney is free to explore realms outside of the common fairy tale, like the story of a Polynesian princess for instance.

moana_teaser_posterMoana tells the story of the young daughter of an island chief. While her father wants her to accept the structured lifestyle of a future leader, Moana (voiced by newcomer Auil’i Cravalho) just wants to explore the wonders of the sea. When darkness starts to fall on their island, killing vegetation and scaring away their supply of fish, Moana’s quirky grandmother (Rachel House) inspires her to follow her dreams and search for the shapeshifting demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who they believe can restore a magic gem to a legendary island and save their home.

The films features all of the things we’ve come to love about the best Disney films. The characters are all memorable and magnificent. Though not much different from other female Disney heroines in story arc, Moana is a loveable and feisty lead who still holds a warm vulnerability that makes her relatable to audiences. Dwayne Johnson’s Maui is a perfect counterpart. The character has a comedic brashness accentuated by a funny sentient upper body tattoo. Even minor characters, like Moana’s Grandma Tala and a dimwitted chicken are wonderful every second they are on screen.

The music, which was written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, is mostly solid. The opening song is a catchy and beautiful chorus that sets the bar high but by the end some songs, like one performed by a giant hording crab (Jemaine Clement), are a bit forgettable. Nevertheless, the movie makes up for any lagging music or cliche story elements with dazzling animation and captivating visuals that perfectly capture the unique world and rich culture of Polynesia.

But what makes Moana the most unique are its endearing characters each with amiable flaws that allow for growth and great chemistry. Carried by strong voice acting and a fun story filled with humor and adventure, Disney has once again created another classic. It’s been a strong year for animated family films, maybe the strongest ever, and Moana manages to put itself on par with the best of the best.

FINAL GRADE: A

Central Intelligence (Full Review)

Kevin Hart has made some great movies. Unfortunately, all of those were stand-up comedy specials. As for his movies where there is actually supposed to be plot and character development, he hasn’t quite figured that out yet. He played the supporting character well in movies like Think Like a Man and About Last Night, but movies like Get Hard and those God awful Ride Along movies have hardly established America’s top comedian as a home run leading man. Finding effective chemistry with his co-star has been one glaring issue, and luckily for him, he has the charismatic Dwayne Johnson to help him out with his latest film.

CentralIntelligencePosterCentral Intelligence stars Hart as a former high school golden boy turned middle aged accountant. Despite marrying his high school sweetheart (Danielle Nicolet), Hart feels like an underachiever stuck at a dead end job. That is until he is contacted by former classmate Robbie Weirdicht. Now a fugitive CIA agent going by the name Bob Stone (Johnson), “Fat Robby” has transformed from tormented, overweight geek into… well… The Rock. And after reuniting over drinks, Hart’s Calvin Joyner gets roped into Stone’s mission to clear his name with the CIA and foil a secret terrorist transaction.

The most important thing in a comedy is to be funny. The biggest reason Hart’s movies have mostly fallen flat is because they simply aren’t funny enough outside of the brief moments in their respective trailers. From Calvin’s first interaction with his annoying coworkers, it’s clear that this movie has a much better set of writers than any of Hart’s other films. The jokes come relentlessly and for the first time in a Kevin Hart led movie, I found myself crying laughing more than once.

Much of the comedy is due in large part to the chemistry between Hart and Johnson. Atrocious chemistry between Hart and Ice Cube weighs down the Ride Along movies, but here it seems like a match made in comedic heaven. The Rock’s dinky, tough guy routine plays well with Hart’s manic everyman and the two are able to provide a perfect comedic balance to drive the story through its more ludicrous and hokey moments.

The plot isn’t too shabby either. Aside from fleshing out the two main characters, Central Intelligence also delivers enough twists and turns to its action film elements to keep you from being bored. Throw in some unadvertised, but welcomed cameos and Central Intelligence feels like the comedy we’ve been waiting for from Kevin Hart. It seems all he really needed was a worthy co-star.

FINAL GRADE: B+

May 2015 Quick Reviews

Summer movie season is in full swing. Here are some quick thoughts on some of the films that capped the month of May…

San_Andreas_posterSAN ANDREAS Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as rescue pilot Chief Ray Gaines in this earth quake disaster film about the San Andreas fault (mainly encompassing California) ripping apart. The film is pretty much everything you’d expect a disaster movie with The Rock to be. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

San Andreas is stuffed full of nearly every disaster movie cliché imaginable: A scientist that no one listens to until it’s too late (Paul Giamatti), a significant other that the main character must reconcile with (Carla Gugino), an offspring that needs saving (Alexandra Daddario), and a character who turns full a-hole when everything starts to go south (Ioan Gruffudd). But it’s still fairly entertaining. The action sequences are no less (or more) interesting than the events in films like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow, but the 3D is a nice added touch. And as far as leads go, Dwayne Johnson is right in his element here, when he isn’t trying to show too much emotional depth. All in all, the film is decent time spent, but don’t expect anything earth shatteringly original. Pun intended. FINAL GRADE: C+

Tomorrowland_posterTOMORROWLAND In this day and age when spoilers are released via on-set cell phone footage and each movie gets four trailers to show you all of the interesting parts, Tomorrowland is an absolute breath of fresh air. Kept relatively under wraps, the story revolves around an intelligent, young girl (Britt Robertson) who is recruited to save a futuristic world kept secret by history’s best and brightest. George Clooney co-stars as the former child genius turned cynical recluse who reluctantly aids her on her journey.

The cast, especially Clooney, deserves credit for strong, emotionally grounded performances. The only problem is that this adventurous build-up comes to a highly underwhelming climax that manages to weigh down the entire film. And, although highly relevant, the movie beats you over the head with its overarching message. Still, kudos to Disney and director Brad Bird for withholding all of their secrets to make this film feel wildly original. FINAL GRADE: B-

Aloha_posterALOHA Where do I start with this one? I guess I’ll begin with the overly convoluted plot. Yes, a romantic comedy has a complicated story. Anywho, Bradley Cooper stars as a contractor for the military who returns to his hometown in Hawaii to help a billionaire (Bill Murray) with a satellite launch. Yes, that’s actually the plot. Emma Stone co-stars as his Air Force watchdog who falls in love with him and Rachel McAdams as his now married ex-girlfriend.

If the military and NASA dribble involving secret missiles and land negotiations with Hawaiian natives doesn’t make this film feel droll enough, the lack of chemistry between the characters will. The film is filled with awkward moments, and not the entertaining kind of awkward that makes you laugh, but rather those moments where you just want the scene to end. The most enjoyable moments in the movie come from Rachel McAdams’ husband, played by John Krasinksi who communicates non-verbally for nearly the entire movie. He provides some snickers in spurts, but other than that, this film is neither endearing or humorous. FINAL GRADE: D+

Fast and Furious way too many (Full Review)

Saying I’m not a fan of the Fast and Furious franchise might be an understatement. I enjoyed the original back in 2001, but I’ve found each installment since to be either mediocre (Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6) or just plain bad (2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift, Fast and Furious). What started off as a series about street racing has slowly transformed into Expendables with a younger cast. Still, the films are fun for audiences, so once again we are treated to another sequel.

Furious_7_posterFurious 7 reunites the majority of the main cast from the previous 3 films in the series. Vin Diesel returns as crew leader Dominic Toretto. Paul Walker, in his final performance, is also back as ex-cop Brian O’Conner. Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges also return. The film’s plot revolves around a government agency (led by Kurt Russell) recruiting Toretto‘s team in the search for a hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) and the brother of the previous films’ villain (Jason Statham) seeking revenge.

Furious 7 unsurprisingly contains every single element that I dislike about the film franchise; Cheesy one liners, gratuitous party sequences that seemed as if they’re ripped straight from late 90’s MTV, dumb cameos from people whose acting skills make the main actors look like academy award winners (Iggy Azalea, Ronda Rousey) and the inevitable shoe-horned street racing scene that has little to nothing to do with the plot. I found myself rolling my eyes during moments where most people will probably be laughing or fully attentive. I’ve also never been a fan of the always stoic Vin Diesel as a leading man.

But there are elements to these films that I can’t deny are absolutely exhilarating. The action sequences, as unbelievable as they are, are always intense and Furious 7 doesn’t disappoint there. From an intense rescue sequence that features cars dropping from an airplane to a couple of fight scenes that remind me why I enjoy Jason Statham so much, the action scenes are enough to keep you from noticing how sophomoric the script is. The action packed finale, which seems more like it belongs in a Pierce Brosnin James Bond movie, is ten times more enjoyable than the ludicrous (no pun intended) runway sequence from Fast and Furious 6.

I’ll never quite understand the hype when it comes to the Fast and Furious franchise. Sure they can be fun, but fun enough to warrant 6 sequels? This latest installment is loud, too long, and about as realistic as a leprechaun riding a unicorn. But it definitely can’t be called boring. And it certainly gets points for giving a heartfelt tribute to the late Paul Walker at its end. If only the franchise itself would ride off into the sunset too. I can’t imagine any sequels becoming more tolerable without him.

FINAL GRADE: C+

The Rock’s Hercules (A review of the movie you chose Lucy over)

I’m not a huge fan of swords and sandals epics. In fact, I think the market is over-saturated with them as much as it is with vampires. 300: Rise of an Empire was fairly decent, albeit unnecessary, but after the travesties of Wrath of the Titans, Pompeii and that last Hercules movie no one saw, I just didn’t have too much interest in seeing The Rock fight a bunch of CGI monsters for an hour and a half. Good thing this Hercules wasn’t that kind of movie at all.hercules-movie-2014-poster-570x846

Unlike most movies about Greek Gods, this movie seeks to debunk the old legends and tell a more realistic tale. Instead of being the demi-God son of Zeus, Hercules is nothing more than a really, really, really strong soldier-for-hire who was raised not knowing his father. And his most epic quests vs. those mythological beasts? They are merely fabrications of missions he successfully accomplished with the aid of his trusted team of mercenaries (Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane, Ingrid Berdal, Aksel Hennie) and his storytelling nephew (Reece Ritche). But even though he is not laced with Godlike powers, this Hercules is nothing less of a hero.

This was admittedly a lesson for me in not judging a book by its cover. Don’t get me wrong, The Rock (calling him Dwayne Johnson is like referring to Bow Wow as Shad Moss) is still a mediocre actor and the script is stuffed with action film clichés. But the movie has enough likeable characters (Ian McShane’s fortune telling sage is my particular favorite) to keep it light hearted summer fun and the plot contains enough twists to keep it from being mundane. Even the action sequences, while not remotely as eye popping as those in 300, are nevertheless done with a realistic flare that makes them entertaining. Before this weekend, I would’ve definitely told you to see Scarlett Johansson in a “mental thriller” over The Rock as Hercules. Never would’ve thought I would be horribly wrong.

FINAL GRADE: B, Not a must see, but time well spent