The ‘Valley Girl’ Remake Just Can’t Resist Being a Sugar-Saturated Jukebox Musical

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CREDIT: Orion Classics

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Josh Whitehouse, Chloe Bennet, Jessie Ennis, Ashleigh Murray, Logan Paul, Mae Whitman, Alicia Silverstone, Camila Morrone, Judy Greer, Rob Huebel

Director: Rachel Lee Goldenberg

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Row of Bare Butts Utilized for a Promposal

Release Date: May 8, 2020 (On Demand)

Valley Girl the remake updates a low-key rom-com 80s charmer and turns it into a cotton candy-nostalgia-lensed jukebox musical. The song-and-dance numbers are often buoyant, but I’m more interested in the weirdness lurking around the edges. That said, the synth-heavy, new wave-dominated pop music of this particular decade is more off-kilter than other eras’ popular tunes and plenty of people find it irresistible. So when our lead Valley Girl Julie Richman (Jessica Rothe) intones, “Life was like a pop song, and we knew all the words,” you might think to yourself, “You mean something like ‘We Got the Beat’ by iconic L.A. girl group the Go-Go’s?” And sure enough, everybody on screen promptly starts singing that anthem of musical possession. Or maybe, if you’re like me, during the part when Men Without Hats’ indefatigable “The Safety Dance” pipes up, you realize that it’s a perfect tune for a wedding reception, especially the version in which they spell out the title. The mind bounces around with highly personal ideas when thoroughly familiar songs keep tirelessly piping through the speakers.

When the original Valley Girl came out in 1983, the stereotype of ditzy, superficial, upspeaking teenage female San Fernando Valley residents was already firmly ensconced in American culture. Frank Zappa and his daughter Moon had just released their song “Valley Girl” the year before, after all. So while O.G. VG was self-aware of its setting, it was also still living through its era and thus it wisely took a snapshot instead of a whole panorama. But 2020 VG‘s appetite might be bigger than its tummy. It plays just about everything a little too straight and obvious. The Romeo and Juliet template of two lovers from opposite sides of town is very much intact, as Julie falls for punk rocker Randy (Josh Whitehouse). The modern-day framing device of a grown-up Julie (Alicia Silverstone) telling the story to her own teenage daughter (Camila Morrone) only underscores the predictability. Also a bummer: the casting of YouTuber Logan Paul, who has a reputation for controversial videos that actually prompted the film to be delayed from its original 2018 release date. Although, it’s worth noting that if you’re worried you might be turned off by his presence here, it helps to know that as Julie’s current boyfriend Mickey, he is supposed to come off as a massive tool.

After watching Valley Girl, I started to develop another interpretation after I looked over director Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s filmography, which mainly consists of titles released by notorious mockbuster distributor The Asylum as well as A Deadly Adoption, the bizarrely straightforward Lifetime original movie starring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. Maybe playing it straight with no comment is just Goldenberg’s sensibility. If you asked her why she cast twentysomethings and thirtysomethings as teenagers, I can imagine her answering, “Isn’t that just how you’re supposed to do things in Hollywood?” (Rothe does at least have a young face, although she has a very grown-up aura.)

Look, when a movie like this one has lines like “Everyone would probably have a total cow if I left” and “Technically speaking, punk is dead,” you kind of start to realize that it’s making fun of itself. And if you’re still worried about a fatal lack of a sense of humor, at least hang around for the moments with Rob Huebel and Judy Greer as Julie’s parents. The two of them (three if you count Huebel’s mustache) are fully alive as the most wonderful exaggerations of pushy parents who have mapped out their kid’s future. Valley Girl, huh? More like “Valley Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

Valley Girl is Recommended If You Like: Jukebox musicals, I Love the ’80s, Beach Blanket Bingo

Grade: 3 out of 5 Ronald Reagan Masks

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Baywatch’ is Gratuitous, Shameless, and in Search of a Purpose

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CREDIT: Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Rob Huebel, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

Director: Seth Gordon

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for An Obsession with All Body Parts

Release Date: May 25, 2017

Baywatch follows the 21 Jump Street template: take a TV show from a couple decades ago that people remember but nobody is especially attached to, then blow it out to something bigger, brasher, and maybe a little meta. It may not be the most ambitious formula, but Jump Street proved that it could result in a clever commentary on the nature of reboots. Baywatch is less interested in that, or any pretensions. Instead, it mostly wants to just hang out and do its own thing. Which is fine! The film makes a go at capturing the cheeky spirit of the original on a larger, less discreet scale – it might leave you feeling a little naughty, but everyone is indulging. Alas, it ultimately descends into just the latest gross-out comedy crossed with a derivative action spectacular.

The most representative shot of Baywatch of Kelly Rohrbach’s jiggling butt while she administers the Heimlich maneuver. Rohrbach is C.J., the bubbly blond bombshell filling in for Pamela Anderson, and the choking victim is Ronnie (Jon Bass), the chubby trainee who is inexplicably recruited to the lifeguard crew. This odd couple obviously ends up together, even though Ronnie is sure C.J. is out of his league, but she knows what she wants and she does not even need to the dance moves that Ronnie learned at Hebrew school to be won over. The schlubby guy/hot girl pairing might be cliché, but the specific details in this case are actually kind of encouraging. There is something inspiring about how the guy who gets his privates stuck between the slats of a beach chair is more Casanova than laughingstock. Everyone loves Ronnie!

In fact, the great charm about Baywatch is how well everyone on the team gets along. The other major romance, between trainees Brody (Zac Efron) and Summer (Alexandra Daddario), at first appears like it will be distressingly conflict-driven but instead evolves into a much more palatable game of playful one-upmanship. Really the only conflict of any significance is the one between head honcho Mitch (Dwayne Johnson, taking over for the Hoff) and Brody. The latter is a gold-medal winning Olympic swimmer looking to repair his image after a Ryan Lochte-esque scandal, and he is only on the team because Baywatch administration wants to boost its p.r. Naturally, Mitch must teach this lone wolf the importance of teamwork. But even here, the dynamic is sympathetic and silly, with Mitch letting the homeless Brody crash at his place and pranking him with a corpse’s genitals.

The majority of this review sounds rather complimentary, even though only about 25% of the film is worth recommending. But it is that 25% about which I have the most to say. Theoretically, Baywatch could be perfectly enjoyable if it were just a plotless hangout movie, with the lifeguards saving civilians by day and porking each other by night. Instead, there must be a standard-issue action plot about a Bond-type villainess (Priyanka Chopra) with the entire town in her pocket pulling off a drug-smuggling ring. The Baywatch crew takes it upon themselves to investigate the mysterious substances and dead bodies washing up on their shores, but since they are not law enforcement, they have no authority to do so, which the actual police keeps reminding them about

Indeed, they are not law enforcement. Nor are they superheroes, which this film so desperately wants them to be. They are mortal human beings who may be highly skilled at what they do, but there is no compelling reason to believe that they can be ominously superhuman saviors. It takes the absurd stake-raising of multiple sequels to get to that point. Viewers for this style of popcorn fare are like that metaphorical frog sitting in gradually boiling water. If the stakes go up bit by bit, we do not realize until after the fact that we have forever departed any semblance of reality. But if they are jacked up to 11 right from the start, we rightfully scoff.

Baywatch is Recommended If You Like: Tight Bodies and Explosions

Grade: 2 out of 5 Slo-Mo Bouncing Breasts