Two new movies hit the theaters today (Friday, May 26, 2017) nationwide:
‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’
There’s no denying “Pirates of the Caribbean” is one of the biggest pop culture phenomena of 21st-century Hollywood, bringing an old-school style of swashbuckling into a new era of CGI ghost pirates to create a cinematic experience far more riveting than any Disney theme-park ride had a right to be.
The original, “The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003), featured an exhilarating score by Klaus Badelt, made superstars out of Orlando Bloom (“Lord of the Rings”) and Keira Knightley (“Pride & Prejudice”), and landed five Oscar nominations, including Best Actor for Johnny Depp. His Capt. Jack Sparrow was enigmatic, dangerous and more than a bit sarcastic, providing Depp the most famous role of his career, even more than Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Willy Wonka or Sweeney Todd.
But most fans would agree that the franchise has seen diminishing returns with each new installment. It should have ended after “Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) and “At World’s End” (2007), marking a solid trilogy by director Gore Verbinski. Instead, it continued with Rob Marshall’s “On Stranger Tides” (2011) and now “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” co-directed by Joachim Rønning’s and Espen Sandberg.
This time, we follow Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley), who seeks the mythical Trident of Poseidon in order to break his parents’ curse. He enlists the help of Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a bright young scientist who’s been sentenced to death for Witchcraft simply for studying astronomy and horology, as well as the legendary Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), whose excessive drinking has caused him to lose respect from his crew.
The most affecting character here is surprisingly Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Hector Barbossa, who has evolved from a rival pirate villain early in the series to suddenly find some nice human moments here.
There’s also decent chemistry between the two fresh faces, Thwaites and Scodelario, who emerged the same year as Prince Philip in “Maleficent” and Teresa in “The Maze Runner” back in 2014. Here, they tease a potential brother-sister revelation akin to Luke and Leia. In an early hospital scene, he calls her “sister” because she’s dressed as a nun. Later on the ship, they stare off at the horizon as she says, “We might turn out to be closer than you think.” Thankfully, these turn out to be red herrings.
Ironically, the most disappointing turn comes from Depp, who plays the role as such a sloppy drunk that he becomes a caricature of himself (i.e. Michael Bolton & The Lonely Island). Staggering around in exaggerated, almost cartoonish movements, he’s a shell of the once-radiant character we loved, while his slurred words make it really hard to understand what he’s saying for the first 30 minutes.
A similar problem befalls Javier Bardem’s villain Captain Salazar, as an unfortunate combination of a thick accent and a ghostly effect creates an impossible-to-understand villain each time he shouts, “Jack Sparrow!” Honestly, Bane was much easier to understand in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012).
It’s a shame because Bardem can play killer foes, from “No Country for Old Men” (2007) to “Skyfall” (2012). Those movies allowed him to actually act. In “Pirates 5,” we feel like we’re watching Bardem’s performance from the neck up, but an entirely different CGI performance from the neck down. His face hovers above a digitally-constructed ghost body that staggers very unnaturally on a peg leg.
Of course, it’s not all bad. There are moments in Sparrow’s rousing introduction that recall “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” where a fake room pulled away as a truck with Marcus Brody still inside. Later, there’s a spinning guillotine shot that instantly becomes one of the best bits in the entire series, as the blade slides up and down depending whether the device is right-side-up or upside-down. Even the climatic set piece of the Trident parting the ocean like the Red Sea is pretty awesome to behold.
Still, by the time the “Ghost Sharks” arrive, we’re not sure whether we’re watching “Sharknado 5” or “Pirates 5.” All we know is that the film itself has jumped the shark. Unlike “Jaws,” these sharks look like they’re actively trying not to eat our heroes. We never feel they’re in danger of being chomped.
Which brings us to the key problem with these sequels: Anyone who dies can simply be brought back to life aboard a ghost ship. This safety net instantly reduces the stakes and takes any sense of daring out of the viewing experience. It may be called “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” but it should be called “Dead Men Are Never Actually Dead.” Even the post-credits clip suggests a Davy Jones return next time.
Thus, die-hard fans may like this fifth installment, but there’s no reason for casual fans to set sail again, because there’s truly nothing here you haven’t seen before. This is comfort food; not a vital entry.
The movie is rated PG-13
If you’re looking for another option, you can check out the TV remake we didn’t know we needed.
It’s hard to call “Baywatch” (1989-1999) a smash TV hit, but it did survive for a decade with outrageous storylines and slow-motion eye candy running along the beaches. Its swimsuit stars capitalized, as Pamela Anderson launched a sizzling modeling and pornography career, while David Hasselhoff found a post-“Knight Rider” cult-hero worship for Star-Lord in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
This time, we find devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) manning his lifeguard tower in Emerald Bay, Florida. He’s an absolute pro at saving drowning bathers, but he wants more, constantly sniffing out crimes that occur along the beach. This infuriates his by-the-book superior, Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), who brings in a hotshot new recruit, Matt Brody (Zac Efron).
Turns out, Brody is a double Olympic gold medalist that has no desire to join the lifeguard squad; he’s merely doing his time for community service. While they initially butt heads over their clashing styles, they eventually learn to work together to uncover a wide-reaching drug ring, operated by the sadistic socialite Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), who spits sexy fire and feeds her enemies to the fishes.
If you come to “Baywatch” looking for high-minded social commentary, you’re looking in the wrong place. This sucker is all about the eye candy, as the signature “Baywatch Babes” leave horny dudes drooling. Kelly Rohrbach replaces Pamela Anderson as CJ Parker, who causes doofy recruit Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) to swoon with hilariously flustered reactions, while Alexandra Daddario replaces Nicole Eggert as Summer Quinn, who repeatedly reminds Efron to stop staring at her chest.
Likewise, The Rock shows off his bodybuilder physique by hoisting a pair of refrigerators across the beach, punching a bell and flexing his muscles for the crowd, while Efron displays his chiseled abs by dominating an obstacle course that requires a firm core. Damn, my abs hurt just thinking about it.
Paired together, they’re quite charismatic, as Johnson hilariously picks on Efron’s Olympic gold medal cockiness. Johnson has experience The Rock ragged on Olympic champ Kurt Angle for years in the WWE but it works wonders here with recurring put-downs of “Bieber,” “Baby Gap” and “N Sync.”
These throwaway one-liners are the bread and butter of the script, which has its moments. One laugh-out-loud scene rivals Ben Stiller’s “we’ve got a bleeder” opening of “There’s Something About Mary” (1998) to the point that certain dialogue directly echoes the “franks and beans” diagnosis.
Director Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses”) deserves credit for keeping things light, establishing the campy tone right from the get-go by having the title logo of “BAYWATCH” emerge from the waves in big, bold, purposely-cheesy letters. In this way, the movie is at its best when it’s not taking itself too seriously. At one point, Daddario turns to her colleagues to ask, “Why does she always look like she’s running in slow mo?” Later, Efron quips: “Sounds like a really entertaining but far-fetched TV show.”
Where the film gets in trouble is in the second half when it’s forced to become semi-serious by trying to deliver some semblance of a plot. Keep in mind that the script is written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, the screenwriting duo behind “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003), a pretty low bar for story-beat plotting. Predictably, the story gets bogged down when it dives deeper into the drug-dealing plot.
The “evil plot” writing doesn’t do any favors for Priyanka Chopra, who’s a compelling heroine in TV’s “Quantico,” but embodies every stereotype of an over-the-top villain in “Baywatch.” Her Victoria Leeds (yes, the detectives literally have to follow “Leads” to solve the crime) speaks in lavish threats, at one point even calling herself a Bond Villain, admitting that her evil mastermind is thinly written.
By the time the fireworks fly during the final showdown, you’ll have laughed at several parts of the movie, but you’ll at least know you laughed with plenty of other moments along the way. It’s a bit like having a fun day at the beach where you fell asleep on your towel too long and woke up sunburned.
Word of warning….parents bringing underage children to see Baywatch should know the movie is filled with profanity (something the television show never did) and a couple of shots of a frontal man part.
Baywatch is rated R.