Su­per­heroes of beach and bat­tle­field

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Bay­watch is a rare movie in one sense: it starts with a good plan, to spoof the 1980s and 90s tele­vi­sion se­ries on which it is based, and sticks to it. That’s in sharp con­trast to the other movie re­viewed this week, Won­der Woman, which is di­vided into in­com­pat­i­ble parts.

Filmed mainly in Florida (the TV show was set in Cal­i­for­nia), Bay­watch opens with a spec­tac­u­lar scene in which the lead life­guard, Mitch Buchan­non (Dwayne John­son), saves a young man who has fallen off his kite­board.

As the mus­cu­lar, grin­ning Mitch lopes back to shore, un­touched by the waves, car­ing only for the life in his arms, the movie ti­tle comes up be­hind him in red cap­i­tals — BAY­WATCH — and dol­phins leap from be­hind it.

So we have a plan, and to the credit of the ac­tors, screen­writ­ers (Damian Shan­non and Mark Swift) and di­rec­tor Seth Gor­don ( Hor­ri­ble Bosses), it is car­ried out with barely a hitch.

“Are you Bat­man?” a beach­goer asks Mitch as he adds an­other res­cue to his ca­reer to­tal of 500. “Sure, pal,’’ he replies, “just big­ger ... and browner.’’ John­son, who pro wres­tled as The Rock, is re­li­able in ac­tion ad­ven­tures such as the Fast & Fu­ri­ous fran­chise but he hits the spot as a comic ac­tor ( Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence and the an­i­mated Moana are good re­cent ex­am­ples).

Here he sees him­self as a life­guard su­per­hero. More Su­per­man than Bat­man if com­par­isons are to be made, as he’s not as dark as Bruce Wayne. The beach is “his” and all the life­guards re­port to him. He’s a lieu­tenant, a rank that leads to amus­ing back-and-forths with the lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cer, who doesn’t think Span­dex rules.

The po­lice are im­por­tant be­cause Bay­watch, as Mitch calls his elite team, is more in­volved in catch­ing crooks than sav­ing swim­mers.

The plot is sim­ple: Bay­watch has room for three more life­guards. One con­tender, there under a deal struck with the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, is bad boy Olympic swim­mer Matt Brody (Zac Efron, who seems to have cut his body fat ra­tio from 6 per cent to zero).

Matt won two gold medals but his cel­e­bra­tions re­sulted in the US fail­ing in the re­lay. He’s known as the “vomit comet”. There are sug­ges­tions the char­ac­ter was in­spired by Amer­i­can swim­ming star Ryan Lochte, who did some­thing silly at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Per­haps, though the film was shot be­fore those Games.

“There’s no ‘I’ in team,’’ Matt tells Mitch early on. Mitch refers to him as One Di­rec­tion, Bieber and so on. The repar­tee be­tween John­son and Efron is full of zip and wit. They clearly en­joyed bounc­ing off each other, and it’s worth watch­ing the out­akes reel af­ter the end cred­its for the un­cut Rock (and Zac) show.

Mitch’s team is full of spunky, clever, brave women, nat­u­rally: CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), Stephanie (Ilfe­nesh Hadera) and Sum­mer (Alexan­dra Dad­dario). They all add to the tongue-in-cheek hu­mour. When one asks why their biki­nis ride so far up their bot­toms, CJ says with a smile, “It makes us faster in the water.”

The other main char­ac­ter is the pudgy (com­pared with Matt) Ron­nie (Jon Bass), who is also try­ing out, and in love with CJ. The orig­i­nal CJ, Pamela An­der­son, and the orig­i­nal Mitch, David Has­sel­hoff, make cameo ap­pear­ances.

Swim­mers may be call­ing for help, but Mitch has big­ger fish to fry. There are pack­ets of drugs wash­ing up on the beach and, soon af­ter­wards, dead bod­ies. His sus­pi­cions fall on prop­erty de­vel­oper Vic­to­ria Leeds (Priyanka Cho­pra), who is also rather fetch­ing.

The water scenes are beau­ti­ful to watch. Mitch pulling peo­ple from a flam­ing boat; Matt sub­merged in a cage. They are far­fetched, but that’s the point.

There is foul lan­guage and body bit jokes, in­clud­ing per­haps the two fun­ni­est movie scenes I’ve seen in­volv­ing a pe­nis, one in­cor­po­rat­ing a beach chair, the other set in a morgue. In­deed, I won­dered af­ter­wards if I’d ever laughed at an onscreen pe­nis be­fore. Maybe Viggo Mortensen’s in Cap­tain Fan­tas­tic.

“There is more to this job than just swim­ming,’’ Mitch tells Matt. There sure is, and while this Bay­watch is per­haps a bit blok­ier than the TV show of teen me­mory, it’s well worth a dip. Won­der Woman is the fourth in­stal­ment in the DC Ex­tended Uni­verse, fol­low­ing Man of Steel, Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice and Sui­cide Squad. The sec­ond movie, di­rected by Zack Sny­der, is the best, with its ex­is­ten­tial strug­gle be­tween two de­mor­alised su­per­heroes. There are lots more planned, in­clud­ing Jus­tice League later this year and Aqua­man next year, in which Ni­cole Kid­man will make her DC de­but as the fish-talker’s mother. This “uni­verse” is the DC Comics an­swer to the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse, home to the X-Men and the Avengers. This ri­val uni­verse has nine movies planned be­tween now and the end of next year. My 12-year-old son thinks the two uni­verses should fight to the death, even though he agrees with me that the Hulk (Marvel) would beat ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing his team-mates. Won­der Woman does Won­der Woman Bay­watch have one ab­so­lute won­der: Is­raeli model and ac­tress Gal Gadot, who started the role in Bat­man v Su­per­man. There she was sec­ond fid­dle to the two old slug­gers. This time she is in the cen­tre of the ring and she is a knock­out. I know WW fans will say no one can come close to Lynda Carter in the 70s TV se­ries, but I think Gadot does; and my view­ing part­ner, who has fol­lowed this fe­male su­per­hero since her teens, agrees.

Won­der Woman aka Diana Prince is beau­ti­ful, su­per-smart and, in Gadot’s in­hab­i­ta­tion, full of warmth and a charm­ing part-naive, part­sly hu­mour. Some of her mo­ments with spy-sol­dier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, stamp­ing his lead­ing man cre­den­tials) are de­light­ful, such as when she spots him hav­ing a shower. “What’s that?’’ she asks. Steve looks down, coy but not em­bar­rassed by what’s on dis­play ... un­til he re­alises she’s re­fer­ring to his watch.

This film is di­rected by Patty Jenk­ins, who made the 2003 se­rial killer drama Mon­ster, for which Char­l­ize Theron won an Os­car. She’s the first fe­male di­rec­tor to make a movie about a fe­male su­per­hero, but un­for­tu­nately that gen­der em­pha­sis doesn’t quite come out on screen. Sure, Won­der Woman kicks male butt and talks about how love is more im­por­tant than power, but she is thin in an emo­tional sense.

This film is set a cen­tury be­fore Bat­man v Su­per­man (Won­der Woman, an Ama­zo­nian demigod-war­rior, is 5000 or so). We’re near the end of World War I. The Im­pe­rial War Cab­i­net is work­ing on the armistice. The Ger­mans know they have lost, ex­cept for mad, bad ones such as Gen­eral Erich Lu­den­dorff and his toxic of­fi­cer Dr Maru. Won­der Woman, Steve and a gang of good-na­tured mer­ce­nar­ies head into the bat­tle­fields and stop Lu­den­dorff, and thereby end the war. The main vil­lain, though, is the war god Ares, Won­der Woman’s half-brother, who of course can as­sume hu­man form. So maybe he and Lu­den­dorff are one and the same.

There are some thrilling scenes, such as when Won­der Woman leads the men through no-man’s land to take on the Ger­man sol­diers. The cam­er­a­work cap­tures the muddy or­deal of trench war­fare and the bal­letic, bel­li­cose grace of Won­der Woman. (Gadot was a com­bat in­struc­tor dur­ing her stint in the Is­raeli army.)

If this in­tel­li­gent, self-aware, hu­mor­ous sec­tion was the whole film, it would be much bet­ter. It’s badly let down by the over­long, bor­ing open­ing that ex­plains Diana’s growth from girl to war­rior and by the over­long, pre­pos­ter­ous, sen­ti­men­tal con­clu­sion in which she fights Ares, just like in any or­di­nary, CGI-over­loaded, pas­sion­less ac­tion movie. It’s dis­ap­point­ing be­cause Won­der Woman de­serves bet­ter.

From left, Kelly Rohrbach, Alexan­dra Dad­dario, Ilfe­nesh Hadera, Dwayne John­son, Zac Efron and Jon Bass in

Gal Gadot in

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