Review: ‘Baywatch’ Gets Beached

Dwayne Johnson may have attained the nickname of “Franchise Viagra” for how he bolstered the Fast and the Furious, G.I. Joe, and Journey to the Center of the Earth sequels, but even his charisma can’t erect much laughter in the latest TV show to big screen release.

A Baywatch movie? For real? There’s a reason why NBC nixed it after a single season. It was a bad show starring Knight Rider as a lifeguard. Yet it survived as a syndicated property – including spin-offs – for a decade; viewers had ample opportunity to view then relative unknown Pamela Anderson running in slow motion. Johnson is a marquee talent for sure, but even I have to question his decision to make a restricted comedy based on a show that wasn’t very good in the first place.

It was like the rest of Hollywood saw what Phil Miller and Chris Lord did with 21 Jump Street and went we can do that. Um, no. What Lord and Miller accomplished was a miracle. A masterstroke in subversive humor with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as a pair of mismatched undercover narcs posing as high schoolers. They took the show’s general concept and played it for laughs. That comedy was a rarity in that it allowed for a sequel, which is something we won’t see with Baywatch or Chips (also released in 2017).

The comedy is a prime example of lazy writing and while the actors involved may have had fun on set, audiences are likely to roll their eyes at the proliferation of jokes about a man’s crotch. There is one joke early on where a lifeguard hopeful is choking and Baywatch‘s CJ Parker (the lovely Kelly Rohrbach) gives him the Heimlich maneuver, which causes him to get aroused. The manner in which he tries to, er, deflate the situation falls flat, and I couldn’t help but remember There’s Something About Mary from twenty years ago and how Ben Stiller got his “beans above the frank.” Better execution and the end result was terrific.

Comedies used to be risque in seeing how far they could go with adult humor. Nowadays restricted humor is thrown in gratuitously and mostly pointless. At least with Mary the missing hair gel had a great payoff. Perhaps director Seth Gordon is in a funk as a features director. After debuting with the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Gordon only has one good comedy to his credit, Horrible Bosses with Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jamie Foxx. A strong ensemble with Aniston as a standout playing against type as a sex-starved dental hygienist.

Baywatch doesn’t have the talent or the writing that worked for Bosses, though. Johnson’s magnified charisma and Zac Efron’s comedy chops don’t gel at all, and Efron needs a career guidance counselor immediately and move away from comedies. This lazy comedy treads water in the worst possible way and its incorporation of raunchy humor stinks of desperation. Self-referential gags were to be expected (jokes about moving in slow-motion, too obvious) but Baywatch feels like watching a two-hour d**k joke.

Yep two hours of bad jokes and too much plot. A comedy does not need to be two hours. If you insist on 120 minutes to tell a funny story, you better back it up with a good plot. Here we have a team of meddlesome Emerald Bay lifeguards trying to solve a mystery outside of their jurisdiction. Now I’ve never seen an episode of Baywatch from beginning to end so I don’t know if this is the standard plot of the week. But it sounds more like Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! minus the Scooby snacks (unless drinking to the point of vomiting counts).

We get Victoria Leeds (Quantico‘s Priyanka Chopra) as the rich villain with megalomaniacal tendencies (“I’m not a Bond villain…yet,” she remarks at one point) buying up all the coast land to create a private resort. She’s also a drug queenpin and the quality of her output is “Breaking Bad bad.” This doesn’t sit well with head lifeguard Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his colleagues, CJ (Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera). As the investigation intensifies the team is also in the process of auditioning three new recruits. Each falls into a specific category. There’s the athletically challenged who is nervous around CJ (Jon Bass); the knows-her-stuff and is drop-dead gorgeous to boot (Alexandra Daddario); and two-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Matt Brody (Zac Efron), who is just there to complete his stint of community service. So Emilio Estevez’s Gordon Bombay only less Michael Douglas Wall Street and more High School Musical d-bag.

With too much time spent on the procedural aspects of unraveling a sinister scheme that the regular cops are too busy to solve (what is this, The Wire?) plus some thrown-in rescue scenes, including one involving a burning yacht with poorly computer-rendered smoke and flames, Baywatch goes as far as resorting to the redemption arc subplot to make Matt more human and less of an insolent man-child. Ugh.

Baywatch tries too hard to be a raunch comedy and the endless unfunny moments to find a good laugh are few and far between. When it takes Mitch multiple attempts to finally refer to Matt as “High School Musical” (after calling him One Direction and New Kids on the Block to start), you just shake your head in disgust.

In all honesty, just check out the trailer below and you’ll get most of the best bits saving yourself money on gas, a sitter, or refreshments in the process.

You’re welcome.

Director: Seth Gordon
Writer: Damien Shannon and Mark Swift, based on the series “Baywatch” created by Michael Bekr & Douglas Schwartz and Gregory J. Bonann
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass, Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, David Hasselhoff
Rating: R (for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity)
Running Time:
116 minutes

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