(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) There are times when, watching a movie, you get a glimpse at the confusion that must have gripped its production. So it is that Baywatch doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. It certainly understands that it’s an adaptation of a widely derided TV show with ironic elements. In fact, it has a character (played with increasing likability by Zac Efron) that seems dedicated to reminding us of all of the logical potholes that such a pedigree implies. Alas, the movie seems determined to become a hard-R comedy with copious grossness and overdone violence. How did we get here from there? The superior example of 22 Jump Street looms large over Baywatch, by showing how it’s possible to lampoon source material without bashing it or ending up with something completely unlike the source. What appears on screen feels like an incredible waste of talent. Dwayne Johnson does his best work at the PG-13 level: burdening him with swearwords and gross-out gags runs counter to his persona. Actresses such as Priyanka Chopra, Ilfenesh Hadera and Alexandra Daddario outdo Pamela Anderson in sheer sexiness but aren’t given anything to work with—even though Daddario does get a few self-deprecating jokes. Hannibal Buress is also wasted, although David Hasselhoff does get chuckles in yet another one of his self-aware extended cameos. The main problem is that the film just isn’t funny, and pushing the R-rated envelope actually makes it less comic and more pitiable. As far as I’m concerned, perhaps worst is that Baywatch‘s R-rating is used for gross jokes, swearwords and male nudity rather than maxing out the original series’ male gaze on curvy lifeguards. Seriously, what’s up with that?
(On Cable TV, March 2016) The disaster movie will never die. Indeed, buoyed by advances in special-effects technology, it will rise again and again, more overblown and chaotic than ever before. If you thought that 2012’s earthquake sequences were as good that they were likely to get, prepare to be amazed by San Andreas’s wide-screen mayhem as Los Angeles and then San Francisco gets thoroughly trashed by a number of unimaginably powerful earthquakes. Dwayne Johnson anchors the film as its muscular protagonist, equally able to commandeer a helicopter for personal gain as he is to fly a small plane and provide first-aid. All of which turn out to be helpful when comes the time to go rescue his daughter from the elements. San Andreas is, to put it bluntly, a fairly dumb movie: The laws of physics are ignored, logic is downplayed, characters a mere plot puppets and nothing is as important as the CGI destruction shown on-screen. Even for a blunt disaster movie, it sometimes overplays its hand: Paul Giamatti does his best as the voice of exposition, while Alexandra Daddario is overexposed in centre-frame as a curvaceous object of desire. (I wouldn’t normally complain, except that in this case, there’s something extra-blatant in the way the movie shows her off and her character is supposed to be a teenager. Also, I’m getting old.) On the other hand, San Andreas is a cunning movie: Everything is engineered for the wow-factor, from some spectacular moments in which major California cities are torn apart to showcase sequences in which a character runs (in a single long shot) to escape to a building’s roof while skyscrapers are toppling all around downtown LA. It takes more than a little ingenuity to cram that much spectacle in a single film, and both the screenwriter Carlton Cuse and director Brad Peyton have to be congratulated (if that’s the right word) for delivering a film so committed to the base ideals of a disaster film. While the result may not be respectable, it springs to mind as a demo disc to show off any new home theatre improvement.