'Baywatch': Film Review

Boobs, butts and pecs — you were expecting Shakespeare?

Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron star in this big-screen adaptation of the hit television series about lifeguards.

Andy Warhol got it wrong. It’s not that everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes; it's that all moderately successful, mediocre television shows are destined to be reborn as feature films. The latest example of the distressing trend attempts to wink knowingly at its inspiration. But a character acknowledging that the proceedings resemble an “entertaining but far-fetched TV show” isn’t enough to make Baywatch anything more than the cynical cash grab that it is.

That the film’s guiding creative ethos was apparently to push the envelope and go for an “R” rating becomes painfully clear. The endless profusion of F-bombs seems to indicate that the screenwriters must have thought they would be paid per use. The raunchy humor extends to gay-panic gags strangely similar to the ones found in the recent, similarly misbegotten CHIPSBaywatch strains for a vulgarity that never comes remotely close to being funny. Unless, that is, you find the idea of Zac Efron manipulating a dead man’s genitals hysterical.

Dwayne Johnson plays Mitch (David Hasselhoff in the original series), the no-nonsense leader of the Baywatch team, which also includes two newbies: Matt Brody (Efron), a two-time Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer whose irresponsible, hedonistic ways instantly rub Mitch the wrong way; and Ronnie (Jon Bass), the pudgy lifeguard-in-training whose helpless crush on a gorgeous colleague becomes improbably reciprocated.

The plot, such as it is, concerns the Baywatch team springing into action to counter a wave of drugs sweeping the area, masterminded by resort owner/villainess Victoria Leeds (Quantico's Priyanka Chopra). That the lifeguards are not actually responsible for law enforcement, as they’re periodically reminded by an aggravated local cop (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II of The Get Down) proves little deterrent to their enthusiasm for crime-solving.

The fact that one of the film’s extended comic set-pieces involves Ronnie becoming involved in a “stuck junk” emergency when his genitals get trapped in a beach chair should tell you all you need to know about its level of humor. The causal throwaway gags are actually far funnier, such as Mitch’s belittlingly addressing Matt with a series of nicknames including “Malibu Ken” and, most amusingly, “High School Musical.”

Johnson and Efron possess impressive muscles, but the performers have never done as much heavy lifting as they do here. And to their credit, they succeed to some degree. Johnson employs his big toothy grin, effortless charm and surprising comic gifts to make the film almost watchable. And Efron — who has come to rely on his obnoxious frat-boy shtick far too often — takes off his shirt … a lot.

Of course, you would expect nothing else from this movie based on a TV series that became famous for slow-motion shots of star Pamela Anderson jiggling down a beach in her bikini. That naturally inspires one of the film’s running gags, with swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach, playing CJ Parker, effectively filling in Anderson’s shoes (or lack thereof). But while the female form is on ample display here — courtesy of not only the comely Rohrbach, but also Alexandra Daddario (San Andreas) and Ilfenesh Hadera (Billions) as CJ’s female colleagues at Emerald Bay — Johnson’s massive physique and Efron’s washboards abs receive equally generous exposure.

Similarly, the film, directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief), shows off its big budget with large-scale action sequences — including the team rescuing several scantily clad women from a burning yacht, a Jet Ski chase and Efron causing havoc on a pier while riding a motorcycle — but none of them has much impact.

Naturally, there are brief appearances by original stars Hasselhoff (who seems to be making ironic cameos his late-career specialty) and Anderson, but those, too, are underwhelming. Anderson’s is so fleeting, in fact, that you wonder why it was even included.

A big-screen reboot so lifeless and mechanical that even its end-credits outtakes are not amusing, Baywatch proves much less than the sum of its undeniably attractive body parts.

Production companies: Paramount Pictures, Flynn Pictures Company, Fremantle Productions, The Montecito Picture Company, Seven Bucks Productions, Skydance Media, Uncharte
Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, Oscar Nunez, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson, Charlotte McKinney, Izabel Goulart
Director: Seth Gordon
Screenwriters: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift
Producers: Beau Flynn, Ivan Reitman, Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonann
Executive producers: Michele Berk, Mary Rohlich, Louise Rosner-Meyer, Tom Pollock, Ali Bell, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger
Director of photography: Eric Steelberg
Production designer: Shepherd Frankel
Editor: Peter S. Elliot
Costume designer: Dayna Pink
Composer: Christopher Lennertz
Casting: John Papsidera

Rated R, 116 minutes