Baywatch

Baywatch 2017-rev

Baywatch (2017)    Paramount/Action-Comedy    RT: 116 minutes    Rated R (language throughout, crude sexual content, graphic nudity)    Director: Seth Gordon    Screenplay: Damian Shannon and Mark Swift    Music: Christopher Lennertz    Cinematography: Eric Steelberg    Release date: May 25, 2017 (US)    Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, Amin Joseph, Jack Kesy, Oscar Nunez.

 

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 You know things are really wonky in the film industry when an adaptation of a really bad TV show from the 90s is more entertaining than the latest entry in a mega-popular movie series. I didn’t expect to dislike the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean flick as much as I did and I certainly didn’t expect to be amused by Baywatch, a hit-or-miss affair that works about as often as it doesn’t. I had every reason to expect a colossal misfire; I’m still dealing with the PTSD of watching CHiPs a couple months back.

 In its best moments, Baywatch pokes fun at its original source by acknowledging the silliness of the show’s premise- i.e. lifeguards solving crimes. At one point, Zac Efron’s character says, “(it) sounds like a really entertaining but far-fetched TV show”. If only this self-depreciating spirit had been more consistent. Baywatch falters when it justifies its R rating with jokes about dick injuries and dead men’s dicks. One scene, obviously lifted from There’s Something About Mary, begs you to laugh at some poor idiot’s genital misfortune by dragging it out to an interminable length. Thus, I am faced with a movie that fits comfortably in neither category- i.e. hit or miss.

 Baywatch 2017I’ve never seen a single episode of the TV series that ran for ten seasons (twelve if you count Baywatch Hawaii) and made a star of Pamela Anderson (who cameos in the movie). It sounded stupid and by all counts, it was. Baywatch the movie isn’t much better. It has a plot that would seem rudimentary to a group of kindergarteners. Head lifeguard, Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Johnson, the Fast & Furious movies), and his team go up against new Huntley Club owner Victoria Leeds (Quantico’s Chopra) who uses it as front for her drug smuggling operation. She intends to flood the beach with drugs so property values go down which will facilitate her plan to buy it all up and privatize the beach. This will require the help of a corrupt city official whose body is ultimately discovered on a burning yacht by Team Baywatch during one of their rescue missions.

 And what of the team in Baywatch? Mitch’s crew includes tough-as-nails second-in-command Stephanie (Hadera, TV’s Billions) and hot-as-hell CJ (model Rohrbach). After a daylong tryouts process, three rookies are recruited to train for permanent positions- Summer (Daddario, San Andreas), a brainy, serious type; Ronnie (Bass, The Book of Mormon), an awkward computer geek with a huge crush on CJ and Matt Brody (Efron), a cocky, disgraced former Olympic swimming champ who joins the team partly for publicity reasons (Baywatch needs public funding) and partly to fulfill his community service requirements (for unspecified reasons). Along the way, Brody learns a few things about humility and being a member of a team.

 Johnson has become one of the most likable actors in Hollywood today. I never thought I’d see the day when such a thing would be fact. Not only is he a formidable action hero, he also has a great sense of humor. He was good in The Game Plan. He was one of the few saving graces of last summer’s Central Intelligence. Even when it’s just his voice, as is the case with the demigod Maui in last year’s Moana, that likable quality still shines through. He makes Baywatch a little better than it would have been with somebody else (e.g. James Franco) in the role once played by David Hasselhoff (who also cameos in the movie). He goofs on his macho image to great effect. What’s more, he has a great rapport with pint-sized Efron who displays his perfect abs at every available opportunity. He has a litany of sobriquets for Brody like Bieber, New Kids on the Block, One Dimension, NSYNC, Malibu Ken and (my favorite) High School Musical. Ordinarily, I don’t like Efron in crude comedies like this. I hated Neighbors 1 & 2. I’ll cop to liking Dirty Grandpa even though I liked it for all the wrong reasons. He’s not too bad in Baywatch meaning he isn’t a complete d-bag in it. He appears to be in on the joke and does his best to keep up with his king-sized co-star.

 Chopra does a decent job as the cold-hearted antagonist who aspires to be a James Bond supervillain. She’d better get cracking on that hollowed-out volcano secret lair. Daddario is okay as Efron’s love interest. Bass is pretty good in the Josh Gad role of chubby, comic relief sidekick. Rohrbach is just smokin’ HOT! She also has roughly the same acting skills of her predecessor.

 As for the movie itself, it’s sloppily assembled and, at nearly two hours, too long. Scenes don’t always fit together comfortably. Some gags are prolonged. Some of it is just plain not funny. Then again, some of it is funny. Unlike CHiPs, director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) takes Baywatch in the right direction (partially, anyway). It makes fun of itself and its absurd premise in a good-natured way, just like The Brady Bunch Movie and 21 Jump Street (two of the better comic adaptations of silly TV shows). Sadly, Gordon feels compelled to veer into crude and gross territory. The bit in the morgue will more likely trigger your gag reflex than tickle your funny bone. The action scenes are rather perfunctory. It isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.

 I can’t believe I’m saying this but Baywatch really isn’t all that bad a movie. It’s not particularly good either. It’s better than it has a right to be. It’s not as good as Brady Bunch or 21 Jump Street but it’s way better than CHiPs and 2005’s Bewitched. It falls somewhere in the middle, not a bad place to be. I’m not saying you should rush out to see it but it’s a decent alternative if the movie you want to see is sold out, just don’t expect too much. 

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