CineScene

Trio of ‘Spirited’ Films Takes Audiences on High Seas, Vacation and Beach Adventures

By BILL GEIGER | Jun 14, 2017

There are some significant forays into the spirit world in this week’s discussion of three summer films. In the sequel “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth film of the franchise, there are indeed dead men telling tales, a whole shipful of them, and they be lookin’ for Capt. Jack Sparrow. When they find him, the fun begins.

In the slightly older, but still viable flick “Snatched,” a mother-daughter adventure goes south – or should I say when the mother and daughter go on an adventure, they go south. To Ecuador. Like the title, a sure-fire double entendre. Anyway, while there are no overt spirits in “Snatched,” there should have been, which could help explain some of the gaping holes in the plot, or in Amy Schumer’s acting, whichever came first.

“Baywatch,” our third film, had some lucky spirits that looked over the characters and kept them funny and true to the form outlined for them in that thin sliver of a plot. It also kept the buxom ladies and handsome lads running in slow-mo, the better to accentuate their well-toned bodies.

Come to think of it, “Snatched” could have used some of those same lucky spirits, for that aforementioned mother-daughter adventure put the two protagonists into a few real life-or-death pickles, the outcomes of which featured the most outlandish resolutions. The spirits could have helped writer Katie Dippold come up with a better story. If only …

Let’s start with “Snatched.” Full disclosure: I’m well aware of the great “Amy Schumer cult.” According to these cultists, Schumer can do no wrong. Her first film, supposedly a “commercial and critical success” according to commentators who had spoken of it back when it came out, was judged mediocre by my critical eye. That would be “Trainwreck.” It might have been a commercial success, but critical? Not in my opinion, but enough of that.

“Snatched” (at least the series of one-word titles of Schumer films is so much better than dealing with that Pirate flick’s moniker), is exactly as described above. Emily Middleton (Schumer) is a loser who gets fired from her so-so job and dumped by her so-so boyfriend within hours. The problem is the dumper, former boyfriend Michael (Randall Park), was supposed to go on an exotic vacation with her before the dumping. Not anymore.

So after striking out with practically everybody in her contacts list, and just short of cold-calling random numbers on her phone, she asks her mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn), to accompany her on the trip. Linda is the type who has four or five locks on her door, and locks them in order each night so she’ll be safe from random home invaders.

In short, she’s just what Emily doesn’t need on this trip, an anal obsessive-compulsive who will ruin any fun Emily wants to have, given her extreme need for amusement since her world fell apart a few days prior.

You can see where this is going. Linda will be the one to save Emily from all the bad guys she falls in with due to her naïveté, the mother-daughter tandem will come to understand each other better, and tapeworms should be assiduously avoided at all costs while on holiday. Yuck!

There are some funny characters worth a mention, such as Emily’s brother and Linda’s son Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), another obsessive-compulsive who proves the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the amusing duo of Ruth and Barb (Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack, respectively), busybodies who help Emily and Linda in their various predicaments.

As Ruth tells it, Barb, who worked counter-intelligence for the Army, cut out her own tongue so she couldn’t reveal any secrets if she were captured and tortured. Oookay. Jeffrey tries to help, too, and maybe he should have cut out his tongue to save us all from his incessant, nonsensical talking. So his help is non-help until the end, and he mostly plays his part for laughs.

At first I thought the casting of Goldie Hawn was a gimmick; I still remember her as the daffy airhead from “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” But after watching the film and seeing that method-acting tour de force presented on the screen, I’ll just say that compared to Schumer, Goldie Hawn is another Gena Rowlands. Don’t know who she is? Look her up. She’s well worth it.

The problem with “Snatched,” as I see it, is the story, or lack thereof. There aren’t enough negative adjectives in the thesaurus to describe this porous mess. Plot points begin, but are not heard from again. Just as it looks like the worst will happen, the story cuts to another part, and the gap is “explained” later on. Linda’s knees are seriously sore; we learn this early in the film, yet she’s able to drag her unconscious daughter across a stream, through a jungle, and up a good-sized hill with no apparent effort.

And if all jungles were like the kind in Ecuador, or Colombia, or wherever they were, major resorts would have colonized them long ago. Trails big enough for cars were routine, and even though the bad guys were chasing them, and despite Linda’s sore knees, they were able to maintain a nice 24-hour, or maybe it was a 12-hour, lead over their pursuers.

There’s also Schumer’s trademark raunchy language and some gratuitous nudity to contend with.

So how does “Snatched” stack up against the old verisimilitude test? Terribly, I’m afraid. Because of the Swiss cheese story line, there is virtually nothing like the truth in the film. It is truth-less, so that’s a big zero.

OK, but is it worth the money? That’s debatable, since the cultists will certainly think so. It seems like Schumer can come out and pass gas, and that will be a major cultural event for the cultists. It wasn’t for me; I can certainly say that.

Had they attempted to placate the spirits, and maybe angled for some lucky spirit mojo, the film probably could have worked. Oh, and if big ol’ Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were there, that film would have shone like stars in the night. Having the big Johnson in attendance would also fit in with Schumer’s particular brand of humor.

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Speaking of big Johnsons, old Dwayne, with his chiseled abs and steam-roller-like biceps, is the anchor of our next flick, a dandy called “Baywatch.” Mined from the David Hasselhoff-starring television show of the same name that ran for 12 seasons, from 1989 to 2001, and also starring Pamela Anderson, “Baywatch” is the kind of film that will be highly entertaining if you don’t take it seriously. I didn’t, and it was.

And I’ll say it now – it was also worth the money.

It begins as just another day at the beach in Emerald Bay, Fla., as Mitch Buchannon (The Rock) arrives to begin his day. As he’s opening up the lifeguard stand, he notices a wind shift, an important factor to keep in mind if you’re on a beach, especially since he saw a man parasailing in the bay. The wind fills that guy’s parachute, the man takes off, then hits the water near a jetty, where he bumps his head, falls unconscious, and needs Mitch to rescue him.

As the opening credits roll, Buchannon, having already saved a life, jogs down the beach – his beach, surveying it like a king, nodding to all the people he knows. As he jogs, the major plot points, such as they are, begin to emerge. The yearly lifeguard tryouts happen today, with three spots open and what looks like hundreds of applicants. There’s the first plot point.

There is a rogue bag of the drug flakka, which has washed up on the beach. The little kid who found it hands it over to Buchannon, knowing good care will be taken with it. The flakka (a synthetic drug, similar to bath salts) was deliberately put there by Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the wicked new owner of the Huntly Club, a restaurant serving an upscale clientele. Leeds, though, plans to own the entire bay waterfront, so she tries to devalue the surrounding property. Hence the flakka. Plot point #2.

The third plot point revolves around one of the applicants who already has a spot on the team. He’s Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a pretty-boy swimmer with two Olympic gold medals and a plateful of attitude. Brody’s been a bad boy, vomiting in the pool during a race after a night of hard partying. He was disciplined, and now he’s on probation with the Olympic team. It’s up to him to serve his time, in this instance working as a lifeguard on a beach, then be welcomed back into the Olympic fraternity. Now the film is ready to roll.

As I watched Buchannon on his daily beach jog, I was reminded of a quote from Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar,” where Cassius, one of the conspirators, says of Caesar and his rock-star status, “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonorable graves.”

A Colossus is an apt description of The Rock, whose bulging biceps and tree-trunk legs put everyone in his shadow, except perhaps for Brody. Brody does not have Rock’s exaggerated physique, but he’s pretty buff himself and can hold his own for the most part in scenes with Buchannon. Acting-wise Zac Efron might even be a little better, but don’t tell The Rock I said that.

Buchannon, for his part, calls Brody by boy-band names, like N Sync, One Direction, Bieber, and one time, although it was delivered like a throwaway line, he even called Brody “Malibu Ken.” So that’s one of the running jokes throughout the film. Another is that Buchannon, tipped off by that bag of flakka, thinks Victoria Leeds is up to no good, and works at finding out her plan. He needs help in this, and Brody reluctantly agrees.

Throughout the whole film, the antagonism between Brody and Buchannon is so strong that it looks like nothing can dissolve that antipathy. It’s actually a good way to keep the film interesting by giving it antagonisms. Another occurs whenever a petty crime is committed and the perp must be turned over to the police.

That beat is covered by Sgt. Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who verbally spars with Buchannon whenever the two meet. And Ellerbee always wins because he’s the real cop. As he says of Buchannon, he’s “just” a lifeguard. Understandably, that really gets Buchannon angry.

We know how this one will go, too, but the writing is crisp and the jokes abundant, so the film makes it easy to like. As for the verisimilitude test, most of what happens would pass that test. Perhaps when the lifeguard team infiltrates a party thrown by Leeds while they’re looking for leads, some of the action  strains that test, or when Buchannon tries to give a private lifeguard test to Brody, and the two square off by carrying two refrigerators by means of a yoke across their shoulders to show their strength. Yeah, that one strained it a bit, too.

So for verisimilitude, the film might get a minimally passing grade, but that should not deter anyone from seeing or enjoying “Baywatch.” And I’ve saved the best for last. Making cameo appearances in the film are the Hoff, who is (or was) also Mitch Buchannon, appearing as The Rock’s mentor, and Pamela Anderson as the team’s new captain. The slo-mo running is still an integral part, and for summer fun, especially around a beach, “Baywatch” is it for this week. Really, how can you go wrong with both Dwayne Johnson and David Hasselhoff playing characters named Mitch Buchannon?

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“Dead Men” is the fifth tale in the franchise that is the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and it tries to maintain the loose, light feel of the original. It mostly succeeds, in large measure because of Johnny Depp, here, of course, as his usual flippy self in the role of Cap’n Jack Sparrow, sashaying here and there as he eludes the rather short arm of British law.

But over the 11 or so years these films have been made, the stories have become more and more fantastic, as in fantasy, as in mystical or downright supernatural. So if we try to apply the verisimilitude test to this flick, it would fail. After all, no one really believes there was such a thing as the trident of Poseidon, nor the ghostly remains of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his undead crew of the Silent Mary.

So as stories have changed over the years, they have appropriated the world of the spirits, and supernatural story lines and ghostly apparitions have become the mainstay of these films. We kind of know and expect that going into them, and willingly suspend our disbelief. Having said that, I think we can do one of two things. We can dismiss the verisimilitude test as unreliable for these films, or we can accept it, but understand that, like for “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” the unreality of the film is the reality of the film. And thus, it does pass the verisimilitude test.

I might also add that it, too, is worth the money, since again we know what it is like going in, so it doesn’t disappoint. Like “Baywatch,” “Dead Men” is rather fun and entertaining.

Sparrow has been having a difficult time acquiring a crew since he’s been stuck with the perception that he is unlucky. I suppose luck is something a sea captain needs, especially a pirate, since they often go against more heavily armed ships. So they would need luck, a good crew and a fast ship.

At the moment, Sparrow’s ship is up on a beach in dry dock, and to keep his crew amused, he has them steal a safe, which the king of England and his representatives on the Caribbean isle hold is the strongest and safest around. As a crowd of islanders gathers around, the king’s rep has the safe opened to show its 5-inch walls and super strength, not to mention all the money stored inside. Also inside is a drunken, sleeping Sparrow.

As the soldiers line up to fire their muskets at Sparrow, First Mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) spurs the horses, and the crew spirit the safe away out the back wall, pulled by a team of horses. Since Sparrow is still inside the vault, so to speak, he bounces around, then out of, the safe. As the safe bounces on the ground, all the money flies out, much to the townspeople’s delight.

When they finally get the vault to Sparrow’s ship (unbeknownst to the soldiers, who are still presumably chasing them), one measly coin remains, which Sparrow picks up as his part of the take. That’s when the crew declare him unlucky, and even Gibbs, who has been with Sparrow from the beginning, has to agree. So they go off searching for another captain and another ship.

Meanwhile, two side stories kind of merge around Sparrow. One is that of Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an orphaned lass who doesn’t know her father, but has grown up with a strong knowledge of science, which of course the “learned” townsfolk mistake for witchcraft. They come from the Donald Trump school of charm and factual knowledge.

Anyway, Carina has a date with the gallows, as the courts have decreed hanging being the punishment for a witch. She meets Sparrow in the town’s jails, since he’s since been caught and has had a pending date with the hangman for the past four films.

In the other side story, Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), crewman on the Flying Dutchman, has been looking for his father for years, and knows that if he can find the mythical trident of Poseidon, he’ll be able to free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman, which involves being undead and ferrying souls of those who die at sea to the underworld. Being undead apparently has no ending date. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Henry also has a message for Sparrow, delivered by the undead Capt. Salazar (Bardem), that he’s coming for Sparrow. Sparrow chooses to link up with Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), hoping his longtime friend/associate/nemesis will help him find the trident. On the journey, with Henry and Carina interpreting the book that Carina’s father had left her, they find the trident, but to say more would spoil the ending. Just note that Carina is a major source of uneasiness to Capt. Barbossa.

The end is a fantastical mishmash of hairline escapes and some relentless pursuit by Salazar and his undead crew. The trident gives Will Turner back his life, and Henry takes him back to a much-anticipated reunion with his lover, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). It’s a real “aw shucks” moment in the film, and it makes for a nice resolution of that story.

But it turns out that very few story lines in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise actually “resolve.” After the credits roll, there’s a hint that all might not be rosy for Elizabeth and Will. Davy Jones is back, the original ferryman of the souls, and he comes a callin’. So he might be a player in the next “Pirates” flick, just as he was back in the “Dead Man’s Chest” film.

Whenever the next one comes out, I hope there’s only one director. “Dead Men” had two, and two directors often make for a messy flick. Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg helmed this one, and while the story was fairly level, some of the bumpy parts were obviously the result of the double vision. Let’s go for one, and maybe let it be Gore Verbinski. He directed the best films in the franchise.

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