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

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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+

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