King Arthur; Baywatch; The Red Turtle; 3 Hearts and more – review

Guy Ritchie’s sword-and-sorcery epic and a remake of a 90s camp classic fall flat while there are delights for young and old alike elsewhere

As the days shorten, outfits lengthen and autumn greets us with chilly reserve, Hollywood is still poring over the results of its summer autopsy – a grim one, with the season ending in its lowest US box office total in a decade. As fingers of blame are pointed in any number of directions, from Netflix to the political administration, the slump is more easily explained in a few individual cases; even the least discerning viewers couldn’t find much to love in films as obnoxiously misconceived as King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Warner, 15) and Baywatch (Paramount, 15).

The former sees Guy Ritchie trying out the same trick he pulled with Sherlock Holmes – meshing the lairy contemporary laddishness of his geezer crime flicks to an older-school English storytelling institution. The slick of glib confidence that got Holmes by, however, has all washed off in this incoherent scramble of booming battle choreography, comic-book history and scratchy “street” swagger – let us cast a permanent veil over David Beckham’s excruciating cameo – with poor Charlie Hunnam looking beautifully bemused at the centre of it all. Hard as it is to locate a principal problem here, it might be that Ritchie’s winking urban anachronisms in this tricked-out Arthurian universe are themselves out of date; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels has never felt so long ago.

It’s a toss-up as to whether this approach is more exhausting than the full-on, just-bants japery of Baywatch, a notional homage to the 1990s lifeguard soap that never matches its source for basic laughs or high-kitsch camp value. Director Seth Gordon aims for the same gonzo irreverence as Lord and Miller’s 21 Jump Street films, but misses the comic value in just how distantly they drifted from their TV namesake. Merely rehashing the original’s iconography in heavy air quotes doesn’t go very far and nothing could be more gleefully absurd than David Hasselhoff to begin with – so what’s the point, exactly?

a still from animation the red turtle
The Red Turtle: ‘a wordless but feeling-soaked fable’. Photograph: Allstar/Sony Pictures Classics

After that wearying double bill, the considerably quieter maritime pleasures of The Red Turtle (Studiocanal, PG) settle softly on the soul like aqueous cream. A serene marriage between the lyrical sensibilities of Studio Ghibli and Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, this wordless but feeling-soaked fable about the strange, shape-shifting bond between a marooned mariner and the giant sea turtle that keeps foiling his escape attempts begins as pictorial adventure before morphing into something sublimely romantic. Exquisitely hand-rendered in tones of coral and azure, it’s a one-off that offers rapture for adults and the smallest of patient children alike.

For grown-ups who prefer their hearts squeezed in more conventional, real-world ways, French veteran Benoît Jacquot’s determinedly old-fashioned love triangle 3 Hearts (101 Films, 15), making its long-delayed UK DVD premiere, does the job plushly enough. When two dissimilar sisters (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni) fall for the same man (Benoît Poelvoorde), the situation crumples in most of the expected ways; it’s pleasingly mellow melodrama, given a spritzer spike by Catherine Deneuve as the sisters’ mother.

marlon brando and robert redford in the chase
‘Hot, bothered and overplotted’: Marlon Brando and Robert Redford in The Chase. Photograph: Alamy

With Robert Redford and Jane Fonda renewing their screen partnership for Netflix – more on that next week – the rerelease of their first shared credit, Arthur Penn’s odd-angled 1966 prison-break drama The Chase (Powerhouse, 15) is cleverly timed. The film, principally a vehicle for Marlon Brando as a morally tortured sheriff tracking Redford’s honourable outlaw, remains something of a southern-fried curio: hot, bothered and overplotted, but fascinatingly preoccupied with its era’s economic politics, and feverish with star power. A rather more elegant parable of money and morality is Ermanno Olmi’s 1988 Venice Golden Lion winner The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Arrow, PG): a Joseph Roth adaptation starring Rutger Hauer as an alcoholic Parisian tramp endlessly frustrated in his quest to repay a stranger’s loan, it’s a grave, stirring gutter epic – and a welcome companion to Olmi’s recently revived beauty The Tree of the Wooden Clogs.

Finally, a low-key Netflix debut for a film that stomps on to screen with far splashier intentions. Iranian-American film-maker Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch is a vividly dyed curate’s egg. Its grisly dystopian tale of social misfits cast out of America into a fenced-off desert purgatory dips freely into assorted genres – spaghetti western, cannibal-holocaust exploitation, Mad Max fantasia – while delivering a blunt state-of-the-nation address on immigration, classism and feminism.

jason momoa and suki waterhouse in the bad batch
Very much of the moment: Jason Momoa and Suki Waterhouse in The Bad Batch. Photograph: handout/PR

Premiered before Trump’s election, it plays very much as a film for this moment, though it remains a cluttered, hollow-hearted muddle and a disappointment after Amirpour’s sinuous urban-vampire debut, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Still, it has its ardent admirers – last year’s Venice jury among them – and deserved a chance for cinema audiences to pick their side.


Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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