REVIEW: Baywatch

24 05 2017

In the opening credits sequence of “Baywatch” – unoriginally set to the tune of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” – Dwayne Johnson’s Mitch converses with a surfer bro on the beach where he lifeguards. The chat has to be subtitled because, of course, Florida English is practically unintelligible to the untrained ear. It’s one of the few subversive or creative tricks the film has up its sleeve in a waterlogged two hour runtime.

What passes for clever throughout “Baywatch” is Mitch and the rest of his bathing suit-clad team engaging in middle-school level taunting by pulling out some new name to taunt Zac Efron’s Matt Brody, a Ryan Lochte-esque “him-bo” has-been swimmer. (The film appears to have wrapped before that Olympian’s robbery scandal in Rio, so the parallels do feel a little eerie.) “21 Jump Street” this most definitely is not. Seth Gordon’s film, which passed through the hands of six writers, takes far more pleasure in fitness porn and over-the-top humor than any kind of satirization or interrogation of its source television show.

There are hints here and there of a movie “Baywatch” could have been. Various instances of fraternizing between men display the faintest whiff of parodic homoeroticism – only to fade into a low-grade gay panic joke. The film plays like a studio-massaged bauble, selling products (shout-out to the Tag-Heuer product placement) and its stars’ chiseled physique above all else. It’s like a two-hour aquatic Equinox ad with some narrative propulsion added in for good measure – even complete with an unearned feminist zinger in its climax! The hit-or-miss humor is a generous life preserver to keep us from drowning in their consumerist ocean. C+

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REVIEW: The Secret Life of Pets

11 07 2016

Universal Pictures’ Illumination Entertainment has been collecting plenty of money in the 2010s thanks to films like the “Despicable Me” series, but what is their identity? Prior to “The Secret Life of Pets,” the answer was unclear. Now, they might have found their answer.

Each prominent animation division has its strengths – Pixar’s is packaging adult themes into child-friendly tales; Disney Animation’s, charming with old-school fairy tale morality; DreamWorks’, creating parallel humor tracks for children and parents. Illumination feels well-positioned to capture a middle ground between all three, should they follow in the example of “The Secret Life of Pets.” And they definitely should.

The film feels like their “Toy Story” in many ways, and not just because the premise, story and characters feel so obviously indebted to Pixar’s debut feature. What that 1995 film did for toys in the chest, Illumination does for pets in the crate. Coming over twenty years later, their work might not feel nearly as ingenious, but it is still quite imaginative nonetheless.

Much like Woody was threatened by Andy bringing home Buzz, comfortable house dog Max (voice of Louis C.K.) feels endangered when his big-hearted owner rescues the lumbering stray Duke (voice of Eric Stonestreet) from the pound. Rather than finding a way to coexist, the two wind up lost and endangered. Only for these conflict-riddled canines, the environment they must navigate is not a nondescript suburban neighborhood. It’s the sprawling metropolis of New York City.

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