Tagged: Alexandra Daddario

Box Office Democracy: Baywatch

The best part of Baywatch was that everyone on screen seemed completely invested in making it a good movie.  It isn’t a good movie— it isn’t even particularly close to being a good movie— but the cast is willing to push as hard as they can to make it better.  Baywatch is elevated from the train wreck I’m sure it is on the page in to a simply bland, kind of mediocre, film.  Baywatch is a reasonably charming medley of punchless comedy, unintelligible story, and a generous amount of scantily clad pretty people.  It’s the kind of movie to see on an exceptionally hot day, or if your first choice movie is sold out and you’ve already put in so much effort to park at the mall.

I paid careful attention to the story in Baywatch and I’m still not entirely sure what was going on.  There’s Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), a new-in-town rich person who has some kind of scheme to buy up a bunch of property and create some sort of massive private beach club.  She’s also a drug kingpin, but no one for the entire movie seems to care about the drugs at all so they end up being white crystalline breadcrumbs that just serve to tie things together.  Because of civic corruption/incompetence, the only people who can stop this nefarious scheme are the local lifeguards led by Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and joined by pretty boy newcomer Matt Brody (Zac Efron), attractive newbie Summer Quinn (Alexandra D’addario), attractive veteran CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), attractive veteran with fewer lines Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), and not-so-attractive local wannabe Ronnie (Jon Bass).  They are an elite cadre of small town lifeguards who also excel in detective work and infiltration techniques.  They do an awful lot of meta-commentary on how insane it is that they all wear so many hats but it is never quite a substitute for having actual narrative justification.

I could forgive the flimsy plot if Baywatch was outrageously funny, but it just isn’t.  Most of the humor is Johnson dunking on Efron in some capacity or another and you’ve seen that relationship a million times, probably half a dozen times where the dunker was The Rock, and most of those times it was being done better.  There’s a fantastic sequence about someone getting their penis stuck in a wooden chair but you can probably get to most of that joke just from reading this sentence.  It’s not that I never laughed or that the charm of the cast was never strong enough to deliver some average material— but the stakes are higher now.  21 Jump Street was a legitimately hilarious movie adapted from a reasonably irrelevant old TV show and it came out five years ago.  You can’t do this much worse this much later and expect to get a pass.

One of the more fun moments in the 21 Jump Street movie is when Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise make cameos as their characters from the original series.  It’s a cute nod and a bit surprising, especially considering Depp’s latter-day star power, and then they move on to finishing up their movie.  They try to recreate this in Baywatch with David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson and fail on just about every level.  To start with, both characters have identically named analogues in the movie and they bring this up so the Mitch Buchannon has a mentor who is also named Mitch Buchannon, and our Mitch works with a CJ Parker and then at the end we’re introduced to former employee Casey Jean Parker.  I know we’re not supposed to be thinking too much about this movie but that’s bizarre enough to leap off the screen and smack you in the face.  They also take all of the surprise out of the cameos (including one that’s the closing joke of the movie) by giving both Hasselhoff and Anderson prominent billing in the opening credits.  Instead of being a cute surprise, it’s something you’re waiting for and trying to figure out during the slower moments.  If Johnny Depp can set aside his ego to do something cute, you would think Hasselhoff and Anderson could too.

Baywatch the movie ends up feeling an awful lot like Baywatch the TV show.  It’s a movie that doesn’t feel the need to hold itself to the same standard of production and narrative nuance because they have a bit of tawdry sex appeal and the charisma of The Rock.  There’s enough charm here to pull through the stuff that doesn’t work, but not quite enough to feel like a movie worth the price of a ticket.  Much like the original show, Baywatch is the perfect movie for a gap in a TV schedule or to randomly catch on a plane… but it isn’t quite ready for prime time.

Box Office Democracy: San Andreas

I’ve been dreading San Andreas since the first trailer I saw of it. I don’t like movies where cities get destroyed especially if they’re cities I happen to live in, I think 9/11 ruined that for me forever. I do, however, have a deep, profound, love for Dawyne “The Rock” Johnson going back to the late 90s, long before any buildings fell down around me. San Andreas is a battle between a genre that’s felt stale for as long as I’ve been aware of it, one that offends me personally, and a man who is possibly the greatest American action star in history. Unfortunately, not even The Rock can carry this movie and judging from the size of his arms these days that’s probably the only thing he can’t carry.

San Andreas is the same as Volcano, which is the same as The Day After Tomorrow, which is the same as 2012. It hits all of the same beats and has basically all the same characters. The Rock plays the action hero, in this case a LAFD rescue chopper pilot his family is collapsing around him but nothing that can’t be patched up by saving them from a cataclysmic once-in-a-lifetime disaster. Paul Giamatti’s considerable talent is wasted as the scientist who tries to warn people but is ultimately useless because no warnings he gives could possibly be useful and all of the science is nonsesne anyway. There’s the smug rich guy (played by Ioan Gruffudd) who treats everyone like garbage as soon as things start going wrong and gets his comeuppance in a seemingly random twist of fate. There’s the attractive young woman, in this case Alexandra Daddario playing Johnson’s alarmingly white daughter, who is constantly in peril while wearing impractical clothing. I suppose the twist on the formula is that Daddario’s character is stunningly competent and frequently saves the men around her as opposed to the other way around but I’m not sure it counts for anything when none of these characters have any sort of depth or even narrative arcs. Every character just sort of runs towards or away from things as needed and the movie doesn’t end with any resolution just by the characters all being in the same place.

Johnson tries his best to save this movie and he very nearly pulls it off. He has the same effortless physicality he brings to all his movies; impossible things look more possible when he does them. He gets all the best stunts, approximately 90% of the emotional content of the movie, and he gets to perfectly pilot three different vehicles through every manner of hell imaginable. Everything that works in the movie works because of him but that doesn’t save it from being a bland, predictable film with a script that feels two levels above a Syfy original movie.

I suppose it’s the spectacle of San Andreas that’s supposed to make me fall in love with it but it doesn’t do it for me. The grandness of the destruction is counterbalanced frequently by just how blatantly the film ignores how things would actually happen. Not that I expect this to be some kind of slavishly accurate depiction of a big earthquake but I feel like with all the tsunamis that have caused such devastation in recent years that I’ve been told so many times how they work to just completely ignore that. There are also some particularly pandering shots of things like the American flag being flown in the rubble of the Golden Gate Bridge and fences full of fliers looking for missing persons that are designed to evoke real world tragedies in a way that feels less authentic than exploitative. In a movie with more genuine heart I might give it a pass but everything feels just a bit too slick and phony in San Andreas.