It's Just Not Any Fun
Baywatch director Seth Gordon and his team of six(!) screenwriters had only two possible routes to take with their high-profile big screen adaptation of the hit ‘90s TV show: serious, or wink-wink. They made the right decision to follow the same formula of many other films based on popular schlock-cop TV shows by going for funny and injecting plenty of knowing nods to the original shows’ signature moments. Charlie’s Angels and 21 Jump Street found success by poking self-referential fun at their own ridiculousness, and though everyone in Baywatch is in on the joke, the joke never goes anywhere. CHiPS recently tried and failed by taking the same angle, but at least that film was occasionally funny. Baywatch isn't.
Oh, there are laughs to be had in Baywatch, but unfortunately they aren’t the right kind. We chuckle at the uncomfortable silence after a boob joke falls flat, we chortle at the ridiculously unfunny penis sight gags that go on way too long, and we LOL at how surprisingly stupid this all is. Baywatch appears DOA before the first jiggly body ever hits the beach.
Dwayne Johnson heads up the cast as Lt. Mitch Buchannon, the same role made famous by David Hasselhoff. He’s the head of a lifeguard team integrating a new crop of lifeguard candidates that includes fallen-from-glory Olympian Matt Brody (Zak Efron) who needs the job to fulfill his community service requirement. The two butt heads from the get-go as Mitch notices a serious lack of dedication and sense of team in the young pretty boy. Muscles are flexed and insults fly as the mentor-mentee friendship gets off to a rocky start. We know where their relationship arc is going, but any chemistry the two manage to muster up, is never enough to keep this thing afloat.
In the early goings, there is a bit of amusing banter between the two, especially a running gag of nicknames Mitch has for Brody such as “New Kid on the Block” or “High School Musical.” It’s this kind of self-aware acknowledgement that could really put this thing over the top. But that’s about as funny as it ever gets, especially as the film runs into its Scooby-Doo-like second half which sees Mitch and his team getting involved in a deadly drug operation led by Priyanka Chopra’s knock-off Bond villain, Victoria Leeds. There’s no need to go any deeper into that thread as it’s simply a thinly-plotted device to set up the film’s next running joke that has Brody continually asking why they just don’t call the cops.
Then there are the women of Baywatch. That's what everyone came to see, right? Well, they are given very little to say, and even less to do other than to sport those iconic hip-high red one-pieces. There’s sexy recruit Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), and fetching second-in-command Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), while Kelly Rohrbach picks up Pamela Anderson’s CJ Parker character. Comedy Central’s Jon Bass plays doughy recruit Ronnie who gets way too much screen time, especially in an early scene where he gets his wee-wee stuck in a lounge chair.
Gordon’s action and rescue sequences are the best things he has going, but the director fails to maintain a consistent comedic tone throughout and lets his gags run on for far too long. And no, Efron dressed in drag solely for the sake of seeing Efron in drag isn’t funny.
Baywatch runs right at two hours and feels every minute of it. When all is said and done, we’re left wondering why, with all the exposed rock-hard flesh, and tongue-in-cheek buffoonery, it’s just not any fun.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “R” by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.