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Swim at Your Own Risk

Baywatch and Pirates hit seabed




BAYWATCH. Who, really, is to blame when something terrible like this happens? And I say "to blame" rather than "responsible" because there are a great number of responsible parties, from grips to craft services, who share in the responsibility of bringing a movie to the screen. And despite their pivotal role in the collaborative art/commerce of the cinema, they simply cannot be blamed for the cascading creative missteps that led to ... this.

I'd hesitate to call out the cast, who starved themselves and adhered to a doubtlessly grueling fitness regime so they could appear, alternately jacked, svelte and mildly buxom in their low-cut, foreshortened beach wear costumes. And besides, Dwayne Johnson seems so charming, so hardworking and personable — an Everyman's Islander Superman — how could it be his fault?

Tempting, then, to look to the writers; they must be at fault. But to read the credits, too many of them had their hands on the thing for it to be the real result of any person's imagination. From its TV origins, through its uncounted drafts and revisions in Hollywood development, this script, like so many, is more a product of excision and reaction than it is a written work.

So do we blame the director? Seth Gordon came to prominence with the artful, compelling documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007). Starting with the modest notion of a regular guy attempting to set a world record high score for Donkey Kong, it expands into a fascinating nerdscape populated by larger-than- life characters and high drama. Unarguably entertaining stuff, it showcases Gordon's ability to find the center of a story and build around it. He seems to have a rougher time of it when working within the narrative form: Horrible Bosses (2011) and Identity Thief (2013) are both almost saved by the force of personality of their casts, but don't have that certain quality of connecting disparate, live-wire elements into the type of comedy that snaps and pulses on screen. Even if Gordon hasn't made any classics, his movies have been mostly serviceable. And while this certainly isn't his best work, I've seen worse direction produce better movies.

Moving up the ladder, it would easy to say this is strictly a product of corporate boardroom strategy, strictly a money making gambit that, fortunately, seems to have failed. I don't think it would wrong to posit this argument: Baywatch is clearly the product of "group-think," engineered to get broad laughs and break the box office. Really though, it's our fault.

Baywatch was, inexplicably, an enormously successful show. Despite the fact that I don't think I've ever watched one start-to-finish, it ran for over 250 episodes, all of them re-run ad infinitum in syndication purgatory. It made many people rich and, I assume, a great many more happy as viewers. It created a narrative framework wherein mostly fit Hollywood people could appear almost exclusively in swimsuits for the duration of their screen-time. It's a show about the beach; what's not to like? And for those of us too cynical to simply enjoy simple pleasures, there was the promise, suggested so many months ago, that the movie version, some 20 years on, would be a satirical, hard-R action comedy riff on the original? Seems promising, right? Something for everyone, right? Self-referential eye-candy with a grown-up sense of humor? Sure! Well, we are prisoners of our own design. The Baywatch series was an earnest, low-production value, soft-focus drama with some pretension to adventure. But people love it, to this day. And those people would likely find very little to love about the movie. Those of us looking for comedy with some bite and commentary were deluding ourselves to think this would be the vehicle. This is an adaptation that serves neither its source material nor its intended re-imagining, a product of perceived demand and an audience's voracious appetite for smarm, plus our infatuation with stars and ostensibly de-sexualized nudity. It has nothing new to say narratively, curses like a sailor without purpose and relies on a cadaver penis for its biggest set-piece joke.

It could be called a tragic allegory and it is probably just what we deserve. R. 116m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES. So everything that I would say is wrong with Baywatch is even more wrong here. If pressed, I would admit that I have probably seen the first Pirates, but I have no recollection of it. (Even back then, it struck me as cynical to transform a beloved children's amusement into a tent-pole). And, with the passage of a few months, I will likely and hopefully have as faint a memory of this protracted, centerless, clattering, splashy mess.

Johnny Depp is back as Jack Sparrow, etc.

The highlight/only saving grace of the whole affair is Javier Bardem's Captain Salazar, a marauding anti-pirate doomed to the depths with his crew by an ancient curse. Bardem is customarily dynamic and weird as the antagonist, but the lumbering, over-complicated narrative does him no favors. (Why, for example, would the ghost crew of a ghost ship keep ghost sharks — somehow in suspended animation — in the hold? Why would those sharks return to life to do the bidding of said crew? Supernatural pecking order, we are to assume.)

The charm of Depp's performance has diminished over time, though to his credit he still knows how to command the frame. There is little else to recommend this. PG13. 129m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

— John J. Bennett

*Updated listings for Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna were not available at press time due to the holiday weekend. For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE. Kevin Hart, Ed Helms and Thomas Middleditch voice the animated kids' movie about a pair of troublemakers who hypnotize their school principal into thinking he's a superhero. PG. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

CITIZEN JANE. Documentary about Jane Jacobs, a writer and activist who fought for New York historical landmarks is the face of the 1960s wave of development. NR. 92m. MINIPLEX.

DAVID LYNCH: THE ART OF LIFE. Just in time for your Twin Peaks binge: a documentary about the life and aesthetics of the director. NR. 88m. MINIPLEX.

WONDER WOMAN. Gal Gadot stars as the Amazonian badass who leaves her island to save the world and Chris Pine from WWI baddies. With Robin Wright. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR. (Women-only screening at the MINOR on Tuesday, June 6 at 5 p.m. Feel free to protest by seeing Pirates of the Caribbean instead.)


ALIEN: COVENANT. Ridley Scott's post-Prometheus, pre-Alien installment of the sci-fi/horror/action franchise he started lands colonists on a planet infested with deadly parasitic creatures. Michael Fassbender excels as a pair (!) of androids and Katherine Waterston hoists the big guns as the human heroine as Scott ticks off everything on the fan wish list. R. 89m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

THE BOSS BABY. Fresh from SNL, Alec Baldwin voices another business-minded infant in this animated comedy about corporate intrigue. With Steve Buscemi. PG. 97m. BROADWAY.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL. The luckless protagonist (Jason Drucker) lobbies for a family road trip so he can hit a video game convention and things go sideways. PG. 91m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING. Boy next door meets isolated girl with serious autoimmune disease in this YA adaptation starring Amanda Stenberg and Nick Robinson. PG13. 96m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2. This buoyant, funny follow-up to Marvel's trip to space with a motley crew of outlaws and misfits is surprisingly heartfelt — like a love-letter from writer-director James Gunn to the material and its fans. PG13. 136m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD. Despite his impressive abs, neither star Charlie Hunnam nor director Guy Ritchie is the man to pull the sword out of this stone. PG13. 126m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

NORMAN. Richard Gere stars as a small-time political operator in over his head with a big-time politician. With Lior Ashkenazi. R. 91m. MINOR.

SNATCHED. Some good laughs and shades of 1980s adventure comedy, but ultimately a forgettable (and surprisingly violent) mother-daughter buddy movie starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn. R. 91m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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