Baywatch

 F*** Magazine

BAYWATCH 

Director : Seth Gordon
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Yahya Abdul-Mateen III, Rob Huebel, Hannibal Buress
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 57min
Opens : 1 June 2017
Rating : M18

Let’s dive into some ‘90s nostalgia that’s been given an irreverent update, to see if the water’s still inviting. Dwayne Johnson stars as Mitch Buchannon, who leads an elite team of lifeguards known as ‘Baywatch’, including C.J. Parker (Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Hadera). Thorpe (Huebel), Mitch’s boss, assigns disgraced Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Efron) to the team. Brody, alongside lifeguard hopefuls Summer (Daddario) and the nerdy Ronnie (Bass), joins Baywatch. Brody goes about pursuing Summer, while Ronnie nurses a crush on C.J. Brody’s cockiness creates friction between him and Mitch, throwing off the team’s finely-tuned synergy. In the meantime, wealthy developer Victoria Leeds (Chopra), who just might be using her fancy country club as a front for criminal activities, attracts the suspicion of the Baywatch crew. With a string of murders frightening beachgoers away, it’s up to Baywatch to restore order and bring back the fun under the sun.

For a film about such athletic characters, Baywatch is lazy – that is its primary shortcoming. The formula of adapting a TV series into an R-rated send-up of the source material worked wonders for 21 Jump Street, but when CHIPs tried to follow in those footsteps, it crashed and burned. Because the Baywatch TV series is generally viewed as a cheesy guilty pleasure, it stands to reason that there would be a lot to make fun of in a big screen pastiche. However, there’s very little wit on display, and not a lot of energy fuelling the rampant silliness. The plot is generic, many of the jokes miss their target, and the action sequences are underwhelming. A signature set piece involving a blazing yacht features markedly unconvincing computer-generated fire, and you’ll witness more impressive jet ski tricks at the Waterworld stunt show in a Universal Studios theme park.

With the budget of a big summer movie, Baywatch had the potential to go balls-out, indulging in over-the-top spectacle and comic action that wouldn’t have been possible in the TV show and the subsequent made-for-TV movies. It seems that Baywatch is pandering squarely to the dude-bro set, and many jokes are of the “ew, men touching other men, how gross!” variety. Yes, both the men and the women in the cast showcase their impressive physiques, but weirdly enough, there’s no female nudity. There’s male frontal nudity, but not from who you’d expect. Johnson himself promised “gratuitous boobs, bums, abs, whatever” when promoting the movie. Perhaps this was edited out at the last minute – but all the swearing and the aforementioned male nudity is intact, so it couldn’t have been to secure a more lenient rating.

Much of the film is riding on the brawny shoulders of Johnson and Efron, but both actors’ natural charisma only carries things so far. Johnson plays yet another no-nonsense noble hero who looks out for his team. He’s good at this, but there isn’t as much of the nigh-ridiculous, yet awesome near-superhuman quality he’s displayed in the Fast and Furious films.

Efron plays the same character he’s played in much of his recent career: the lunk-headed, vain hunk who’s a big show-off, but who eventually becomes sympathetic. Most of the back-and-forth between Mitch and Brody consists of the former calling the latter mocking nicknames, including one that’s pretty meta. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Johnson and Efron doesn’t reach the heights this reviewer hoped it would.

What would Baywatch be without women running in slow motion? There’s a fair bit of slow-mo jogging down the beach, but there’s also an effort to make the female characters more than mere eye candy. Daddario’s Summer is the most knowledgeable member of the team, while Hadera is lean and formidable as Stephanie, Mitch’s second-in-command. Rohrbach has the responsibility of filling the sizeable, uh, shoes left by Pamela Anderson. As C.J., she has enough of the blonde bombshell quotient, but lacks comedic chops.

Baywatch falls back on that hoary trope of the awkward geeky guy slobbering after the unattainable hot girl, and it’s often grating. The mere fact that Bass’ Ronnie is nowhere near as toned as the other characters is meant to induce laughter, and the character’s establishing moment involves him getting his private parts stuck in a deck chair. It’s yet another sign of the film’s laziness.

Chopra’s Victoria is a wannabe Bond villain – she even says the line “I’m not a Bond villain…yet.” Chopra brings industrial-strength strut to the role, but the character of the evil land developer is so played out that it’s boring, even if this archetype is usually male. She even has lumbering, suit-clad henchmen doing her bidding. There is some fun to be found in Victoria’s final showdown with Mitch and Brody, though.

Even when David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson make their requisite cameos, it fails to enliven the proceedings, because there’s nothing particularly creative about their guest appearances. What could’ve been wickedly goofy, raunchy and exciting is instead a ho-hum production line comedy offering – not even the combined biceps of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron can haul this above mediocrity.

Summary: Instead of being risqué, action-packed and subversively funny, Baywatch sinks like a stone, even with several likeable cast members on board.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Secret Life of Pets

For F*** Magazine

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS

Director : Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Cast : Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, Bobby Moynihan, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Albert Brooks, Tara Strong
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1 hr 31 mins
Opens : 1 September 2016
Rating : PG

The Secret Life of Pets posterDouble lives make for inherently intriguing storytelling: from the playboy/vigilante to the Wall Street stockbroker/serial killer to the electronics salesman/superspy, we can’t get enough of them. This animated film sheds light on what pets get up to when their owners head out to work. Naturally, it’s not quite as dramatic as the above examples.

Max (C.K.) is a Jack Russell terrier who is completely devoted to his owner Katie (Kemper). His idyllic existence is upended when Katie brings home a new dog, the shaggy mongrel Duke (Stonestreet). Upset that he is no longer the sole beneficiary of Katie’s affection, Max plots to get Duke kicked out of the house. The two get into an altercation and get lost, running into a gang known as the “Flushed Pets”. These unceremoniously abandoned animals are led by the psychotic rabbit Snowball (Hart), who has vowed vengeance against all humans. Gidget (Slate), a Pomeranian who has been nursing a crush on Max, leads a group of their friends to search for and rescue Max and Duke. The group includes aloof tabby cat Chloe (Bell), geriatric basset hound Pops (Carvey) and Tiberius (Brooks), a red-tailed hawk who has to keep his killer instincts in check. An odyssey through New York ensues, as Max and Duke have to put aside their differences and try to make it home.

The Secret Life of Pets Duke, Katie and Max

The Secret Life of Pets is directed by Chris Renaud, who helmed the Despicable Me movies, and Yarrow Cheney, who was the production designer for them. Animation studio Illumination Entertainment is on a roll, with The Secret Life of Pets now a worldwide box office hit. The bits and pieces that have been cobbled together from other films are clearly evident and have been frequently pointed out: Max’s resentment of Duke echoes Woody’s jealousy when Buzz Lightyear enters Andy’s playroom in Toy Story and the story of stranded pets finding a way back to their owners is reminiscent of Homeward Bound.

The Secret Life of Pets Chloe, Max and Mel

While it isn’t exactly original, the film is energetic and vibrant and remains engaging throughout. The animation isn’t a dizzying sensory overload, and the design of New York City is just heightened enough while still being recognisable. Composer Alexandre Desplat channels George Gershwin with a breezy, jazzy score. Inventive moments of physical humour are showcased during several intricately choreographed set pieces, including a skirmish in which Max and Duke are bounced about between multiple clotheslines and when Buddy (Buresss), a dachshund, navigates a fire escape. While there are obvious jokes about bodily functions, The Secret Life of Pets does hit a few balls in the direction of the parents in the audience. “For me, every breath is a cliff-hanger,” the elderly Pops wheezes. Elsewhere, there’s a reference to the gentrification of Brooklyn. It’s the right shade of ‘adult’. A hallucination sequence in which Sausage Party seems to have invaded this film is more miss than hit, though. It’s not razor-sharp wit, but this reviewer laughed more often than not.

The Secret Life of Pets Chloe, Mel, Buddy, Tiberius, Gidget and Sweet Pea

This film marks C.K.’s first voice role. Cynicism and wry, world-weary observation is very much built into C.K.’s persona as a comedian – as such, this reviewer was pleasantly surprised at how convincing he sounds as an earnest, enthusiastic Jack Russell terrier. The conflict between Max and Duke is efficiently established and predictably enough, they have a few bonding moments along the way, eventually reaching inevitable that “hey, you’re not so bad” point. Stonestreet is a good choice for the loveable big lug, who isn’t as dim-witted as one might expect. Yes, we’re guilty of judging books by their covers.

The Secret Life of Pets Snowball and friends

Speaking of going off appearances, a lot of the humour in The Secret Life of Pets is derived from first impressions being deceiving. There’s the refined poodle who head-bangs to System of a Down’s Bounce, and of course there’s Snowball. Hart does a lot of manic yelling, and while it’s not a bad concept for the primary antagonist, the character’s drastic change of h(e)art towards the film’s conclusion is difficult to buy. As it stands, Snowball is not much more than a less esoteric Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

In this image released by Universal Pictures, Gidget, voiced by Jenny Slate, left, and Max, voiced by Louis C.K., appear in a scene from, "The Secret Lives of Pets." (Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures via AP)

Slate’s distinctive raspy tones sound very apt emanating from a Pomeranian, and the character’s determination to rescue her beloved Max is endearing. Brooks, voicing a very different animated character from Marlin in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, gets some of the film’s funniest moments. Tiberius is a lonely hawk cooped up in a cage whose nature as a predator gets in the way of him making any friends, and it’s always fun to see a kids’ film with talking animals actually acknowledge the fact that animals eat other animals, while giving the carnivore in question some redeeming features. Bell’s cool indifference as Chloe the cat is an amusing counterpoint to the overall enthusiasm expressed by the various dogs.

The Secret Life of Pets gnarly cats

            We’ve avoided this comparison for this long, so here goes: The Secret Life of Pets can’t match the warmth and profundity of Pixar’s best works, but it’s still sufficiently moving and entertaining, with quality animation work making it a visual treat. Oops, we said “treat” out loud. No, sit, sit!

Summary: Thanks to a funny, talented voice cast and eye-catching animation, The Secret Life of Pets is good fun in spite of its familiar aspects.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bad Neighbours

For F*** Magazine

BAD NEIGHBOURS
2014
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 96 minutes 
Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Craig Roberts, Ike Barinholtz, Lisa Kudrow
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller
            You can’t choose your family, and it turns out you can’t choose your neighbours either – except perhaps if you can buy out the whole row of houses. In this comedy, new parents Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) don’t have that luxury. With an infant on their hands, they’re horrified when the Delta Psi Beta fraternity moves into the house next door, since it means endless loud parties and no peace for them or their baby girl. Mac and Kelly initially try to keep things civil between them and the fraternity president Teddy (Efron), but things soon get out of hand as the couple and the frat boys repeatedly clash, deciding the street isn’t big enough for both their groups.
            The film is titled Neighbors but is being released as Bad Neighbours in the UK, Australia and other territories presumably to avoid confusion with the long-running soap opera Neighbours. Director Nicholas Stoller is an oft-collaborator of Judd Apatow, having directed R-rated comedies Forgetting Sarah Marshall, its spin-off Get Him to the Greek and The Five Year Engagement. As can be expected, there is no shortage of wanton ribaldry on display in Bad Neighbours, every scene featuring large quantities of profanity, drugs, sex and nudity in any number of combinations. If lowbrow, American Pie-esque humour isn’t your cup of tea (or bong of weed, rather), it’s best to give this a wide berth. But if you’ve got no problem with lactation gags and 3D-printed dildos, this is the flick for you.
 
 
            The problem with many films of this genre is that the characters can be pretty detestable and it’s hard to enjoy their antics when you just can’t relate to them or root for them. By any standards, the characters in Bad Neighbours are not good people: Mac and Kelly are irresponsible, hard-partying parents and Teddy and his frat brothers are inconsiderate, lunk-headed jerks. Teddy even has his frat symbol tattooed on his bicep. However, they end up pretty likeable and somehow, it’s hard to stay mad at these guys and it becomes surprisingly easy to go along with the over the top gags and the sophomoric silliness thanks to the performances the cast turn in.
 
            Seth Rogen essentially plays himself once again – a schlubby, pot-smoking “hurr hurr” type – but he’s entertaining and funny while he’s at it and he and Zac Efron throw themselves into their crazy feud. This is far more Zac Efron’s wheelhouse than dramas like At Any Price and Charlie St. Cloud. He gets to goof off and show off that MTV Movie Award-winning physique, charming but never repulsively smug. Once again Rose Byrne more than proves her versatility, holding her own opposite (and often stealing the show from) Efron and Rogen, gamely partaking in the juvenile hijinks without looking like she’d rather not be there. Dave Franco makes for an excellent foil to Efron as Teddy’s wingman Pete, their friendship/rivalry given surprising depth.
 
 
            Bad Neighbours unfolds in an episodic, somewhat predictable fashion and is far from a sophisticated affair but it manages to be amusing and engaging and some moviegoers will probably end up enjoying this one in spite of themselves. There’s a scene early in the movie in which Mac and Teddy discuss their favourite cinematic versions of Batman, Mac favouring Michael Keaton with Teddy preferring Christian Bale. It’s a moderately clever way of demonstrating a generational gap and the film tackles the worries of moving on from college to a job and a family without becoming sentimental goop. And hey, when “warring neighbours” comedies like Deck the Hallsexist, you could certainly do worse than hanging out with Rogen, Efron, Byrne and co.
 
 
Summary: These bad neighbours make for a pretty good time!
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong