Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Seth Gordon
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Jon Bass, Rob Huebel, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Hannibal Burress, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ilfenesh Hadera, Oscar Nunez, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson.
The popular tv series created by Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz and former lifeguard Gregory Bonnan, ran for eleven seasons from 1989 to 2000 and became known for its iconic theme music as well as the sight of its scantily clad stars running in slow motion along the glistening sands. The producers of this big screen adaptation have opted for a mix of buddy comedy and action, hoping to recreate the success of 21 Jump Street. But, unfortunately, this big screen adaptation follows more in the embarrassing footsteps of the recent misfire CHIPS, and is a tasteless, raunchy comedy that has little fidelity or respect for the source material.
Dwayne Johnson steps into the role of Mitch Buchannon, made famous by David Hasselhoff in the tv series. He is the overzealous head of the Emerald Bay Baywatch patrol, and he seems to take his job rather too seriously. When the film opens he is choosing the new recruits for his squad for the summer season. The new recruits include Summer (Alexandra Daddario, who appeared with Johnson in the big budget disaster movie San Andreas), a surfer, and the awkward and bumbling Ronnie (Jon Bass, from Loving, etc) whose actions are unfunny and cringe worthy.
Mitch is put out to find his crew lumbered with the new recruit Matt Brody (Zac Efron), an arrogant former Olympic swimmer who has had a spectacular fall from grace. Brody has been brought aboard the team as a publicity stunt by Captain Thorpe (Ron Huebel, from tv series Transparent, etc), but he is not a team player and initially he and Buchanan clash. But as is typical of these types of films, a bromance gradually develops between the pair and they are forced to put their macho rivalry aside.
The bland and generic central plot concerns a drug running operation masterminded by the ruthless Victoria Leeds (Indian actress Priyaka Chopra, making her English language debut here), who runs the luxury beachside resort the Huntley Club. She is running down the value of prime beach front real estate, but when negotiations fail she resorts to murder to achieve her aims. Buchanan and his team of lifeguards turn detectives to try and solve the case and expose a web of corruption, thus earning the wrath of Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the local policeman.
Six writers laboured over the lazy and juvenile script, which accounts for its uneven tone and unnecessarily convoluted plotting. The film turns the lifeguards into amateur sleuths and crime busters here as they try to take down a drug smuggling ring operating on their stretch of the beach. The main writers are Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (the 2009 remake of Friday The 13th, etc).
Baywatch seems to have been cobbled together by a committee of writers and is something of a mess. Director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, etc) caters to the lowest common denominator here with a surfeit of sleazy gross out humour and raunchy, ribald jokes involving genitalia, sex and nudity, and a strong streak of homophobic humour. There is also plenty of swearing and violence – all of which is a far cry from the more family friendly nature of the source material. And a scene set in a morgue reaches a new low in tastelessness.
The central cast is eye candy for both sexes. Efron flexes his impressive six pack and abs at every opportunity, but, unfortunately, he seems to be getting stuck in these tasteless comedies like Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates and Dirty Grandpa, et al, where he gets to trot out his arrogant frat boy persona once again. His character is the butt of many jokes, especially when Mitch keeps calling him by various boy band names. Johnson also flexes his impressive muscles, but he also shows a good flair for the comedic. He has a nice self-deprecating sense of humour, which is put to good use here. But his character goes missing for a lot of the time, and the film grinds to a halt in his absence. Johnson and Efron do develop a nice easy going rapport though.
Most of the female characters, apart from the main villain, are given little to do and seem to have been cast purely on their looks. There are the obligatory cameos from original stars – Hasselhoff puts in a brief cameo as his iconic character, while Pamela Anderson turns up at the end for a brief cameo, but she is given no dialogue.
Baywatch is let down by some second-rate CGI and special effects work, particularly obvious in a scene involving a boat on fire. But Gordon does give us a couple of slickly staged action scenes that go some small way towards saving the movie from becoming a complete waste of time. The outtakes over the end credits suggest that the cast had a great time working on the film – a pity that it didn’t translate into a fun time for the audience.
Rather than becoming self-aware and mocking, this lazy reboot of Baywatch is a pretty dispiriting and pointless affair. Thankfully though it is marginally better than CHIPS, although that is damning by faint praise!