Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Discovery

THE DISCOVERY (Charlie McDowell, 2017)

Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) finds overwhelming proof that the afterlife exists in THE DISCOVERY, although what that other plane of existence is like remains unknown. Two years after he announces the discovery, four million people have committed suicide, often with the expectation of getting a fresh start. Thomas’s son Will (Jason Segel) remains more skeptical regarding what his father’s findings mean and detests the widespread social response to them. He protests that the evidence is not definitive, nor does it promise a better life. Upon hearing that his father has built a new machine, Will returns to their island home, now a fortress-like building where Thomas, his other son Toby (Jesse Plemons), and a group of people whose suicide attempts failed continue the secretive work to learn what exists beyond the veil.

On the ferry there Will encounters Isla (Rooney Mara), the only other passenger making the trip to the island in the off-season. Both dodge explaining why they are going to such a place and part ways without expecting to see one another again for reasons that become clear soon enough. Will does not want his father to reflect on him, and Isla is hiding her intention to kill herself. Later Will spots Isla’s attempt to drown in the ocean and saves her. He also smooths the way for her to receive a spot among the selected in his father’s home. It’s a momentous time there as Thomas now believes he can record what is seen in the afterlife. When the experiment appears to fail, only Will knows that a recording is made, although what he sees is difficult to translate.

Director and co-writer Charlie McDowell imparted a TWILIGHT ZONE-like quality to his debut feature THE ONE I LOVE, and he does it again with THE DISCOVERY. Both films take place in worlds very much like ours except in one specific aspect that recontextualizes everything we know. The consequences of the discovery mostly take place off-screen and emerge in anecdotes, but the impact hangs heavy over the proceedings. Thomas is as driven as ever because he bears the weight of all the people who interpreted his pioneering finding in a way he likely didn’t anticipate or desire. The film eludes questions about the religious implications, yet Thomas has constructed something like a cult around him. Whether intentional or not, THE DISCOVERY recalls THE MASTER in shots of the ocean and Thomas’s private, personal interview method for determining who can stay. (Both also have small roles for Plemons.)

THE DISCOVERY is most compelling as it dives deeper into the search for answers. McDowell wisely does not get into the speculative science involved, leaving it to suspension of disbelief to accept the film on its own terms rather than getting bogged down debating the viability. He explains what developments mean more often than allowing the viewer to do the math, which takes some of the fun out of THE DISCOVERY, but he draws out the hunger to comprehend what new information signifies. Humans want to bring order to the unknown, so it is imperative that the film satisfies that craving. McDowell’s most prominent stumble occurs at a climax that seems like it should be revelatory yet, more than anything preceding it, confused me in the Christopher Nolan-like layers upon layers. The romantic element between Will and Isla comes off as more forced than credible even as it becomes more integral.

Although the material is treated seriously, THE DISCOVERY carves out room for some humor. As the more dutiful son, Plemons displays a cavalier attitude about the research and arrangements that highlight what those deeply embedded in something weird accept as normal. Mara lends a sarcastic edge to Isla, particularly when she identifies the strangeness of her and Will selecting and returning a corpse.

Whether one believes in eternal spiritual existence after death or not, THE DISCOVERY asks a provocative question: does the inability to know with complete certainty what comes next invest more meaning in life? The film’s answers could be more rigorously considered but are thoughtful nonetheless.

Grade: B

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


OKJA (Bong Joon Ho, 2017)

Under the leadership of CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), the Mirando Corporation has a grand design to disrupt worldwide meat production in OKJA; however, the discovery and breeding of a so-called superpig that leaves less of a carbon footprint while tasting good is not intended for a rapid product launch. Instead Lucy distributes twenty-six superpigs to farmers around the globe for a competition to name the best one in ten years.

Mija (An Seo Hyun) and her grandfather Heebong (Byun Heebong) are raising their superpig named Okja in the mountains of South Korea. Okja is essentially a floppy-eared hippo with a dog’s personality, so to Mija she is more like a beloved pet than livestock. Although Mija assumes her grandfather has purchased Okja from the company, she despairs upon learning that the Mirando Corporation has taken the superpig to its local headquarters before sending her to the surely dire fate that awaits in New York City.

Determined to get her best friend back, Mija embarks for Seoul, where her attempt to retrieve Okja crosses with a rescue mission led by Jay (Paul Dano) of the Animal Liberation Front. They want to expose Mirando’s practices and need Okja to gain access to their facilities. The public relations fallout surrounding the ALF’s heist and return of Okja lead the corporation to bring Mija to New York for a reunion of the girl and her superpig.

OKJA is akin to a hybrid of David Lowery’s 2016 remake of PETE’S DRAGON and FAST FOOD NATION, mixing the action-adventure of children’s fantasy with political satire. Such a genre medley makes for a striking, albeit inconsistent, fable. Rather than scratching out a screed against multinational conglomerates, writer-director Bong Joon Ho seeks to provide balance to a complicated issue, even if where the film’s sympathies reside are never in doubt. The activists practice laughable extremes to prove their commitment to ideals and struggle to pass their own purity tests. Although the corporation is undeniably driven by a profit motive, Lucy is well-meaning in bringing this product to the market. The inherent deception in her marketing plan is necessary because consumers tend to prefer not to know how their food gets to them.

OKJA doesn’t shy away from depicting the realities of factory farming and processing, but Bong isn’t arguing in favor of vegetarianism or veganism. The film’s aim seems to be less specific. Rather, it seeks to raise consciousness of the system and how consumer choices and attitudes are interconnected with corporate decisions. Bong is addressing big, complex questions about international demand and the supply chain. The points he makes can get muddled, which is the challenge of infusing so much thematic ambition into a simple story.

There’s a lot to like about OKJA even as Bong tries to do more than he can effectively manage. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Johnny Wilcox, a Jack Hanna-like TV host who is the face of the superpig competition, isn’t established sufficiently for the dark turns the character takes to have dramatic impact. Gyllenhaal’s broad performance comes off as a miscalculated attempt to match Swinton’s quirkiness. Bong mostly succeeds at shifting tones from sweet to satiric and humorous to horrifying, but easing into the film’s end, including a post-credits scene, indicates that he wasn’t certain how to wrap OKJA beyond one obvious matter.

Lest OKJA sound like an economics lesson, the adventure Mija finds herself caught up in might be better thought of as a globalism-questioning WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, although be advised this is decidedly not a film for little kids. Early scenes of Mija and Okja cavorting in the countryside have the charm of the children playing with E.T. An impresses with the determination and intelligence she conveys in Mija even as others try to exploit her for their interests. Bong shows off his flair for staging action with Mija’s thrilling chase after Okja through downtown Seoul. Although OKJA is ambivalent at best about whether changing the world is scalable, it rejoices in the fights and victories achieved on a micro level. That may not be altogether heartening, but the small wins are what fuel the pursuit of larger ones.

Grade: B

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

47 Meters Down

47 METERS DOWN (Johannes Roberts, 2017)

While vacationing in Mexico in 47 METERS DOWN, sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) decide to do something a bit more daring. Lisa is feeling down after breaking up with her boyfriend, who thought she could be boring. Kate suggests they be more adventurous, in part to prove him wrong. They go out and meet some guys who tell them about a captain who can have them cage dive with sharks for a bargain.

Lisa is hesitant but grudgingly agrees, although she starts to balk when seeing the weathered boat. Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) and the guys assure them that everything will be fine. There’s still reason to be cautious, though, as the guys on the boat chum the water, which is illegal where they are. Lisa lies about knowing how to use the diving equipment, but as there’s a wink-wink, nudge-nudge quality to this whole arrangement, they get into the cage and go below to see the sharks up close. Lisa and Kate are exhilarated until the rusty winch snaps and drops them 47 meters down to the ocean floor.

47 METERS DOWN is marred by dialogue that is as bad as any that might be part of a commercial film financed with a respectable budget and featuring experienced professionals. The lines delivered above water aren’t well-written, but the clunky chatter doesn’t stand out as being especially bad, just purely functional. Maybe it’s the isolation that makes what gets uttered while the characters are in the ocean sound so stiff. As most of the film takes place underwater with masks somewhat obscuring the two main actresses’ faces, they must say one another’s names an uncommon number of times to distinguish who is talking. The low caliber of their dialogue is indicative of Moore and Holt being in a looping session in which they are instructed to watch the footage and say the first thing that comes to mind.

Despite the leaden quality of the verbal exchanges, 47 METERS DOWN is quite effective as a B-grade suspense film. The limited view in the murky water sustains the tension of knowing a threat is out there and can strike quickly. It’s even more unnerving when Lisa swims far enough away for possible help and then loses her bearings when trying to return to the relative safety of the cage. The sound of the distressed women’s rapid and labored breathing doesn’t trigger a sympathetic reaction but transmits the extreme anxiety. The most mundane actions are coded as unrelentingly tense either because of the danger lurking around them or the diminishing capacity of their air tanks.

47 METERS DOWN likely benefits from being seen in a theater because having the big screen overwhelm you makes the experience feel more direct, as if you are also in peril with the women in the water. The screenplay by director Johannes Roberts and Ernest Riera isn’t packed with surprises but bad choices. Feeling more actively involved as an audience member makes it easier to forgive the rash and foolish decisions Lisa and Kate tend to opt for. The pressure-filled situation would naturally lead to reacting rather than contemplation, even if more of the latter is advisable at first. The script could telegraph less of what’s to come--chances are that any seemingly inconsequential piece of information will enter into play--but for all of its faults, 47 METERS DOWN is ruthlessly potent at instilling fear and panic.

Grade: B

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Something Wild

SOMETHING WILD (Jonathan Demme, 1986)

When Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels) slips out without paying for his lunch in SOMETHING WILD, another customer, Lulu (Melanie Griffith), notices and calls him out on it. Her interest isn’t in having him make things right with the New York City diner but in spotting him as a potential kindred spirit despite their contrasting appearances. Lulu’s flirtatiousness captivates Charles, and he accepts her offer to drive him back to his office. She has other plans, though, and points her green convertible westward for the beginning of a weekend adventure.

Charles doesn’t know what he’s got himself into with Lulu, whose real name he learns is Audrey. She regularly tests the buttoned up businessman’s capacity for lying, which extends farther than the husband and father of two would initially seem to possess. He makes up excuses for his boss and his wife regarding why he won’t be where he’s supposed to be. Meanwhile, Charles and Audrey pose as husband and wife for her mother and former high school classmates at her tenth reunion. Charles is enjoying this momentary freedom, but when Ray (Ray Liotta), an old acquaintance of Audrey’s, crosses their path, Charles finds that are also consequences to such impulsiveness.

Delivering on the title’s promise, SOMETHING WILD maintains its unpredictability as the two strangers weave their way across a few states. Although the film ultimately guides them to a conventional destination, the trip to that place is less psychologically straightforward and more perilous than in a standard romantic comedy. Charles’ initial attraction is plain as day, but what leads him to risk his established life so recklessly takes time to be revealed. It’s harder to get a read on Audrey and her motivations even as she fits into an an increasingly familiar film type.

’s Audrey might be considered one of the progenitors of the quirky woman who shakes a rudderless man out of his boredom and unhappiness, as in GARDEN STATE and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER. The difference is that E. Max Frye’s screenplay resists the notion that she is a starry-eyed genie whose winsome nature alone can make everything better or that she exists primarily for Charles’ salvation. In fact, by adopting the name and black bob of Louise Brooks’ character in PANDORA’S BOX, Audrey presenting as Lulu suggests the inherent danger in Charles following her. He doesn’t know her but makes assumptions based entirely on what he can see and the fantasy-like role she fulfills. What might be thought of as her true self, the girl next door, still seems like a part imposed on her that she’s trying to escape. Griffith’s portrayal brings complexity to Audrey as someone with a strong idea of who she wants to be but not always the ability to be in control.

The work of recently deceased director Jonathan Demme exudes warmth for the people in his films, even those who aren’t front and center. As a road movie SOMETHING WILD provides the opportunity to meet all sorts of folks, and it’s remarkable how many of them make an impression with a minimum of time. Whether it’s a helpful gas station attendant, a group of B-boys in the background, or two old women working at a junk store, played by the mothers of the director and David Byrne, the film spots the decency in those one comes into contact with but don’t give a second thought to. The main characters in SOMETHING WILD have restless spirits, but Demme softly reminds us that there’s plenty to connect with wherever we are without always having to look elsewhere.

Grade: B+

Friday, June 16, 2017

It Comes at Night

IT COMES AT NIGHT (Trey Edward Shults, 2017)

A contagious disease has forced those who have survived so far to hole up in their homes, preferably far removed from the rest of society in IT COMES AT NIGHT. The family led by Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) has managed to make do in the country, but when her father (David Pendleton) catches the illness, they know they must euthanize him if the rest are to live. It’s a difficult thing for their seventeen-year-old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) to help with. Still, what must be done must be done.

One night they find that a man has broken into their home. Will (Christopher Abbott) claims that he thought the place was abandoned and is seeking water for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their little boy Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). Paul roughs up Will and considers killing him. Eventually he agrees that it may be safer to retrieve Will’s family and their supplies and have them move in as long as they agree to the strict rules of the house.

Writer-director Trey Edward Shults treated the searing family drama of his debut KRISHA like a horror movie. With IT COMES AT NIGHT he’s made a horror film featuring two families. While his latest may have more surface commonalities with genre films, both films study the dynamics in a closed system when tensions run high. In IT COMES AT NIGHT the stakes are elevated to matters of life and death rather than feelings and relationships. Of course, the latter can feel like the former among relatives.

In spite of its narrative and scenic asceticism, IT COMES AT NIGHT generates a fair amount of uneasiness. Shults doesn’t provide many details about the doomsday scenario the characters exist in, but he keeps the audience keenly aware that the smallest break from protocol could have fatal results. The suffocation is felt as the camera slowly wanders down a dark passage in the house and into a heavily wooded area. Shults understands that living in persistent dread is perhaps worse than terrible things popping out at you on occasion.

Although the spareness of IT COMES AT NIGHT is undeniably effective, it reaches a limit where the lack of detail becomes more frustrating than rewarding. The film doesn’t need a news report to fill in a lot of backstory about how things have devolved to current conditions, but it would help to have a better sense of the immediate threats and how the characters might keep the most pernicious one--the disease--at bay. If Shults is commenting on the insular and potentially damaging nature of families, then the film needs a stronger point of view. It’s aligned with Travis, who is at an age when, under normal conditions, he would be able to start establishing an identity separate from his parents. That can’t really happen when it’s everyone or every unit for themselves. Travis is exhibiting signs that he is developing different opinions, but IT COMES AT NIGHT doesn’t develop this angle enough for it to be fruitful.

Keeping everything cloaked in generality grants assigning all sort of meaning to what little action there is, yet the sinking feeling in IT COMES AT NIGHT is that the mystery amounts to less than the scraps examined for clarity.

Grade: C+

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Mummy

THE MUMMY (Alex Kurtzman, 2017)

In THE MUMMY Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are soldiers of fortune traversing Iraq while also looking for antiquities they can resell on the side. They get into a firefight with some insurgents and are bailed out with an airstrike by the military. Those bombs also reveal a long-hidden tomb for the Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who was buried alive far away from her homeland because of the evil she sought to bring into the world. Nick and Chris would be happy to grab what they can from the site, but archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) notes the importance of this find and persuades them to remove Ahmanet’s sarcophagus for further examination.

Supernatural forces under Ahmanet’s control crash the plane transporting them all back to London. Although Nick appears shockingly unharmed after plummeting from the sky, it’s determined that the revived Ahmanet has cursed him and intends to give physical form to the ancient god Set through him. Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who leads a monster hunting squad named Prodigium, considers Nick the bait for destroying Ahmanet.

THE MUMMY is intended to launch the studio’s Dark Universe film series that will unite Universal Pictures’ classic monsters in a manner similar to the Marvel Connected Universe and DC Extended Universe. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is in the works, and films featuring The Wolfman, Dracula, and The Invisible Man will all presumably follow, not to mention MUMMY sequels if this one performs well enough. While this makes sense in terms of asset and brand management, the creative benefits are questionable, particularly in this first entry. THE MUMMY struggles to assert its own necessity beyond being the foundation for several other movies.

THE MUMMY credits three people for screen story and three others for screenplay, which suggests the script was worked over quite a bit. The film itself confirms as much. THE MUMMY often feels like it is trying to cobble together several ideas with different origins and purposes. The film lacks consistency as it attempts to do right by the franchise, the monster, and the star. It is not the unqualified financial success the studio would want for Dark Universe’s introductory offering, but worldwide returns suggest that THE MUMMY has done well enough to justify more chapters. Creative missteps can always be fixed with retconning. The mummy could refer to Boutella’s character or someone else in the film who encounters the supernatural. Regardless of who you consider to be the monster, the mummy gets shortchanged as an attention-demanding presence. THE MUMMY shows signs of being tailored for Cruise, but all that does is make even more of a hash of the story. It’s no secret that commercial films are products; THE MUMMY just seems more engineered for getting to market without a distinguishing quality.

Like the version of THE MUMMY with Brendan Fraser, this one is doing an Indiana Jones imitation of sorts. Cruise’s character, like everyone else, is poorly defined, which makes his self-centered rogue come off as unlikable or dull despite the actor’s efforts to turn up the charm. The grim Dark Universe name does not extend to THE MUMMY’s tone. Director Alex Kurtzman plays up the goofy and lighthearted nature of the material, particularly as Cruise gets tossed around like a rag doll. Films like this should be fun. Although THE MUMMY isn’t good, its lack of self-seriousness helps this compromised film play better.

Grade: C

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Murder Party

MURDER PARTY (Jeremy Saulnier, 2007)

Christopher (Chris Sharp) is preparing to spend Halloween night watching horror movies, but his plans change when he finds an invitation on the sidewalk to a so-called murder party. He makes a Sir Lancelot costume out of a cardboard box in his closet and turns the smashed jack-o’-lantern on his doorstep into pumpkin bread to bring to the hosts. Christopher makes his way to the isolated Brooklyn warehouse where the party is being held in MURDER PARTY not expecting the dangerous situation he’s entered.

The collective of artists who sent out the invitations can hardly believe someone showed up. They anticipated spending the evening getting high and doing some work, but now that a victim has arrived, they intend to kill him and document it as provocative art. They’re mounting this project in the hope of getting grant money that Alexander (Alex Barnett) claims access to. While they wait until the witching hour to begin, tensions among the artists emerge, giving Christopher his best chance to get out alive.

MURDER PARTY plants the seeds for what writer-director Jeremy Saulnier refines in BLUE RUIN and GREEN ROOM. The protagonist becomes entangled in circumstances that greatly exceed what he is ready for, and the consequences are quite bloody. Although all three of Saulnier’s features mix horror and comedy, MURDER PARTY is more directly or broadly comedic, particularly as the artists bumble their way through their clearly unorganized plan and squabble as interpersonal relationships fray. Much of the humor is marked by a self-knowing quality puncturing the self-seriousness of artists, especially those seeking initial validation. The shots fired at these characters are on target but tend to be the most obvious jokes.

MURDER PARTY was made with a low budget and actors performing multiple tasks on the technical crew. Those factors imbue it with the sense of a bunch of friends making something for fun, which translates in the looseness of the effort. The special effects have inexpensive, handmade charm. The overactive Steadicam usage suggests acquiring access to a nice piece of equipment and using it as much as possible without taking its creative purpose into account. The smooth, swinging motions are more distracting than anything.

The varying calibers of the performances restrict MURDER PARTY from being as suspenseful as it could have been. Saulnier is aiming for something goofier, as these would-be killers are not geniuses in art or crime. Still, he doesn’t exploit the apprehension inherent in the scenario. Rather, it limps along until a flip gets switched to increase the body count. MURDER PARTY plays like a really good film to share among the social circle that made it but one that could stand more polish to reach those beyond that group. It contains indications of promise that Saulnier developed in the films that followed, making it of interest more as an early work than as a standalone achievement.

Grade: C

Friday, June 02, 2017

The Lovers

THE LOVERS (Azazel Jacobs, 2017)

Although Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger) are husband and wife in THE LOVERS, they are effectively already separated. Whether each is aware the other is having an affair or not doesn’t seem to matter. Michael makes half-hearted excuses about meeting a friend or staying late at work while slipping away to be with ballet teacher Lucy (Melora Walters). Mary doesn’t really mind as she is often getting together with writer Robert (Aidan Gillen).

With some pressure from their paramours, both Michael and Mary are close to telling the other that they are leaving the marriage. They just need to wait until after their son Joel (Tyler Ross) and his girlfriend Erin (Jessica Sula) come home for the weekend. A funny thing happens in the lead-up to this visit. Michael and Mary wake up nose-to-nose one morning and rediscover something that attracted them so many years ago, causing them to sneak around with each other on their lovers.

THE LOVERS has the makings of a farce or the kind of romantic comedy that the French tend to be better at executing than other countries, but writer-director Azazel Jacobs makes the unpleasantness of these relationships almost oppressive to bear. Michael and Mary are miserable people who have supposedly found at least a small measure of happiness outside their marriage, although even their lovers seem more like diversions than emotional investments. This material could be presented as tragedy or comedy. It certainly could be funny--and it’s apparent that it’s meant to be to some degree--yet Jacobs chooses a middle ground that doesn’t flatter the heavier or lighter components. He flattens the couple’s inner lives and employs Mandy Hoffman’s score as counterpoint, sweeping music for people not prone to grand or sweet gestures.

THE LOVERS’ lack of humanity cannot be blamed on its lead actors. Letts, a writer with scene-stealing supporting performances in INDIGNATION and CHRISTINE, favors highlighting Michael’s absurdity, especially in how he’s ended up pursuing a woman who exhibits some of the nagging wife-like qualities that one might assume caused him to cheat in the first place. Letts reveals that the character knows he’s letting down everyone because he’s given up on himself. Winger’s Mary seems fatigued and is just drifting wherever the currents take her. Winger is good at wielding Mary’s relational boredom as a defense. Neither performance cuts very deep because the roles are not written with complexity, but Letts and Winger hint at layers there to be uncovered.

To acquaintances Michael and Mary might appear to have functional lives. Evaluated on their own, the various pieces of THE LOVERS look like they will assemble into a compelling portrait of a broken marriage. In actuality, the film and the relationship in it amount to less than what can be observed. They have a shell of a marriage, and the film, while rich with promise, is similarly hollow.

Grade: C

Thursday, June 01, 2017


BAYWATCH (Seth Gordon, 2017)

Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his beautiful team of lifeguards in BAYWATCH don’t just keep Emerald Bay’s beachgoers safe; they function like a pseudo-police force to ensure the city’s well-being. Disgraced Olympic champion Matt Brody (Zac Efron) expects just to show up and become a member of the highly esteemed unit, but Mitch insists that he earn one of the three coveted spots available to this year’s class of hopefuls. Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and the out-of-shape but tireless Ronnie (Jon Bass) prove their worth to join a Baywatch squad that already includes the disarmingly pretty CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) and second-in-command Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera).

The drugs washing up on the beach are a concern to Mitch, but the bodies that his team finds point to a bigger problem. He suspects Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the Huntley Club, has something to do with all of this but lacks proof. Determined to set things right, Mitch and the rest of Baywatch investigate what’s going on with the city’s elite and well-connected.

The film version of BAYWATCH brings back the beefcake and cheesecake, memorable red swimsuits, and slow-motion jogging on the sand and in the surf that established the TV series as a syndication mainstay and guilty pleasure through the 1990s. Director Seth Gordon and the film’s writers strike a somewhat irreverent tone in handling this unserious material, yet laughs get pushed aside the more BAYWATCH becomes invested in solving the unsurprising mystery driving the story. The filmmakers acknowledge and make light of the prurient appeal of the source material and this adaptation, but unlike clear inspirations 21 JUMP STREET and THE BRADY BUNCH movies, which break free of and mercilessly ridicule the original TV shows, BAYWATCH maintains a certain reverence for its predecessor that seems highly misguided. What should be silly fun becomes kind of a drag as it focuses on cracking a case.

Johnson bubbles with so much enthusiasm that by sheer force of will he tries to sell this mediocre comedy as premium product. He’s made his share of middling films, including this one, but give him credit for expending maximum effort even when he doesn’t have much to work with. For a film as conscious of body image as BAYWATCH, Efron looks painfully ripped, which might have served as a good joke if it weren’t indicative of a literal arms race to try and match Johnson’s appearance. In the NEIGHBORS films Efron has served well as a comic foil but gets crowded out here.

Ironically, the BAYWATCH film probably makes for an accurate adaptation because it can be passable as an eye-catching distraction while not being any good. The failure of imagination may stand most starkly in how the film integrates the two cameos anyone reading the opening credits awaits. Of course David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson drop by, but their moments are so perfunctory that it feels as though they are included to meet contractual obligations. What could have been broadly entertaining comes off as highly uninspired.

Grade: C-