Thursday 19 October 2017

Movie reviews: Baywatch settles for a nauseatingly lazy brand of modern US humour

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Alexandra Daddario, Ilfenesh Hadera and Kelly Rohrbach in Baywatch
Alexandra Daddario, Ilfenesh Hadera and Kelly Rohrbach in Baywatch
Road trip: Starring Charlie Wright, Jason Drucker, Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott

It'd be hard to imagine Baywatch existing in today's climate of political correctness and keyboard warfare. Its plot was as intrinsic to its vast appeal - at one stage it was the most watched TV show on the planet - as the "articles" were to Playboy magazine. Baywatch was about one thing and one thing only - skin. Beautiful, toned, sun-kissed skin and plenty of it.

For director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) and the team of writers charged with bringing the lifeguard soap into a new era, a self-referencing humour would have to be woven throughout the screenplay to put some ironic distance between the viewer and the shameless display of dangerous curves and chiselled abs. That would surely keep the body-shaming police at bay.

Well, it might have, had the comedy actually been of the type that aroused hearty laughter at regular intervals. Instead, Baywatch settles for that nauseatingly lazy brand of modern US humour that sees characters point at ridiculous situations and merely verbalise bemusement. It is a subtlety-free, self-congratulatory take on wit that is more laugh-with than laugh-at.

That said, the longer you sit there watching Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Zac Efron and Kelly Rohrbach (updating Pamela Anderson's original sex symbol, CJ Parker) run around investigating a drugs ring, something becomes clear: Baywatch is aimed at teenagers. Once its ravishing veneer (bolstered by former Miss World Priyanka Chopra as the villain) has worn off, you are left only with cheap special effects, limp writing and the absence of comedic inspiration. On the other hand, if tiny swimsuits and tinier intellects are your thing, look no further. ★★ Hilary A White

Pirates of the  Caribbean:  Salazar's Revenge

Cert: 12A; Now showing

It's an aeon since Johnny Depp warranted the description "interesting". These days, the impossibly pretty 53-year-old is solely concerned with throwaway, eccentric action-comedy that seems designed to dodge credibility.

It's unlikely to concern him too much given the pay cheques he's collected from the Pirates of the Caribbean films ($55m for fourth instalment, 2011's On Stranger Tides, itself the most expensive film ever made).

We need to accept this is now Depp's natural habitat. After all, regardless of whether or not you think the world needed another Pirates film, you can't deny that his slurring and wobbling as Captain Jack Sparrow has played a role in helping the brand become the 11th highest-grossing in movie history.

Norwegian filmmaking duo Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg go the extra mile while sticking to the trusted formula: an introductory swash-buckle (a bank heist and a gallows rescue, both inventive and relentlessly fun); a mysterious map and a quest (to find the all-powerful Trident of Poseidon); and a spectacular dust-up against an undead enemy (Javier Bardem's tubercular Armada zombie). All this gets drenched in rum, cannon-fire and the camp Cornish consonants of Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa. Kaya Scodelario and the wonderful Golshifteh Farahani also feature, as does some mighty CGI. A dead horse flogged, but flogged with gusto. ★★★★ Hilary A White

Spark

Cert: PG; Now showing

Orphaned as an infant after his home planet of Bana is nearly destroyed by the evil ape Zhong, 13-year-old space monkey Spark lives on a large asteroid created by that disaster.

There, he rummages through the waste materials dumped there by Bana, now under the rule of Zhong. Among his only companions are a formidable fighting fox called Vix (voiced by Jessica Biel), a mechanic pig called Chunk and a doddery nanny robot (Susan Sarandon).

A secret message intercepted by Spark draws him into a race to get back to Bana and help the rebels overthrow Zhong before he uses a gigantic weapon for widespread galactic destruction.

En route, he will, naturally, discover much about his background while undergoing an adventurous rite of passage that will fulfil his destiny and see him wield fighting blades made from light energy.

Obviously, all of this sounds suspiciously similar to one late-1970s space opera that writer-director Aaron Woodley has perhaps decided to take his cues from. You could almost have excused this had Spark bothered to bring a more distinct visual make-up to its 3D computer animation. Unfortunately, it is a rather drab looking exercise that resorts to computer-gamey gimmicks while also seeming to model some of its characters on those from a certain 2004 animated superhero film.

And yet, for much younger viewers untroubled by such things, mild and fleeting sci-fi entertainment may just be found for them here. Oh well. ★★★ Hilary A White

The Red Turtle

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Michael Dudok de Wit directs the first European collaboration for renowned Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli.

The mix of hand-drawn graphics and CGI, of east and west, a kind of Tintin meets Anime, is well suited to telling a story about the universality of life. Wordless, bar the odd shout, it is beautiful and simple.

A shipwrecked man is washed up on the shores of an uninhabited island. He tries to find a solution then has no choice but to focus on survival. But he doesn't quite make peace with his new life, building a raft to take him back to the life he once had. Twice an invisible force smashes his raft, forcing a return to the island. When he discovers that the raft and hope-smashing force was a giant turtle the man exacts a violent revenge, something for which he is full of regret when the moment of rage passes. Then something magical happens.

The film is simple, not overwhelmingly meaningful in any kind of thought-provoking way, but it is a beautiful and transporting little mini-world of its own. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul  

Cert: PG; Now showing

There's a certain commerciality to some films. It can be especially pervasive in films pitched at children, the logic seemingly being why bother with quality when pester power will sell tickets. This feels true of this latest Wimpy Kid instalment but what is doubly annoying is that it cashes in on such a beloved franchise.

The entirely recast film, inevitably child actors age out of roles and Alicia Silverstone is Mom now, revolves around a thwarted family road trip with a lot of poo and fart jokes that will/may amuse some. The script is poor, the acting worse. The most valid verdict I believe is that a gaggle of 16-year-olds were really excited to see it, they had enjoyed the previous films and had adored the books as kids. They were very disappointed. ★ Aine O'Connor

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