Charmless and tired, 'Baywatch' makes an early play for bellyflop of the summer
Despite running for 11 seasons and spawning a spin-off so strange that it arguably merited the movie treatment, Baywatch stands as perhaps the most vacuous TV show to have ever been a hit.
Think about it; beyond Mitch, CJ, and the words to the theme tune, what can you actually remember about the show? People running around in swim suits, sure. In slow motion, of course. But any of the episodes? There are 242 of them, after all. Can you remember the plot of a single one of them? Were there any season arcs?
The only takeaways from Baywatch’s incomprehensible 11-season run are that the people of Los Angeles need to take swimming lessons and that millions of people all over the world like the look of attractive white people in skimpy red swimming togs.
The near vacuum Baywatch has left in our shared pop cultural awareness should have actually played to the strengths of those trying to reboot it as a summer franchise for the big screen. After Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s meta-aware 21 Jump Street set the bar for ridiculously fun 90s TV revivals, you can see why Paramount would want to take a punt on doing the same with Baywatch. Sunshine, sand, and a fearless R rating promised a similarly wry and knowing exploitation flick of 90s nostalgia.
It was not to be. Just let it drown.
It’s quite hard to figure out just on whom to lay the blame because everyone is awful here. Seth Gordon, best known for Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief, remains a director whose greatest achievement on set appears to be calling out action. The script, cobbled together by six different writers whose previous credits include The Smurfs, Night at the Museum, and Freddy Vs Jason, is at its most inventive during a long sequence in which a penis gets caught in a deckchair.
And then there’s the cast; Dwayne Johnson pulls on Hasselhoff’s vacated boardshorts as Lt Mitch Buchannon, the senior lifeguard is somehow both so chill that everyone on the beach knows his name, yet also a stick in the mud. He’s paired with Zac Efron, whose Matt Brody is a washed-up party-boy Olympic champion modelled on Ryan Lochte, despite the fact that Efron’s squat muscular build resembles something closer to Simone Biles. They meet, they bicker, their squabbling patter having none of the lightness of improvisation. Will they be friends by the end of the running time? As sure as lycra clings to boobies.
What can be said about the rest of the cast? As the male-gaze-box-ticking eye candy, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesh Hadera wear various different swimsuits and deliver dialogue that feels like it was plagiarised from the cutting-room floor of McG’s Charlie’s Angels. Jon Bass, as the fat (read: average sized) funny (read: not funny) sidekick, is an actor so lacking in charm or presence that he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia profile.
Quantico star Priyanka Chopra is a nefarious drug dealer, mostly chewing up the scenery and cashing her pay cheque. The Get Down’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II manages to steal the show, as much as that is possible, as the local beat cop, simply by being the only person on set who seems to have had any fun. Actual comedy stars (Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, Oscar Nunez) are given nothing to do.
Baywatch’s plot – which could barely have filled a 40-minute episode of the TV show – is scraped across the two-hour running time. Repetitive expository scenes go by in which there are few jokes and the ones that land are bellyflops. Zac Efron wears a dress.
This is the worst film of 2017.
Verdict: Despite being a film obsessed with muscles, everything about Baywatch is just plain weak.
Baywatch (15A/116mins) is released nationwide on May 26th.