REVIEW: ‘Baywatch’ Wades Almost Exclusively in Shallow Waters

Paramount Pictures

Benjamin Franklin famously asserted that only two things were certain in life: death and taxes. Ole’ Benji thankfully didn’t live long enough to see there’s a third less exciting addition to the mix, that movie studios will cash in on any formula they can exploit for profit.

At least that’s the prevailing logic to explain how we ended up with a Baywatch film.

It seems like a simple fit. No one remembers much about the long standing tv show (seriously, it ran just over a decade); well, other than the numerous beautiful bodies squeezed into tight red swimsuits running along the beach in slow motion. That leaves ample room for the right team to play with formula and convention enough to make something delightfully unhinged or entertaining. Instead, the end result is something of a soggy mess.

Mitch Buchanon (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) is the man in Emerald Bay. He knows everyone, has saved everyone or is in the process of saving someone he’s never met. Sadly the only thing Mitch’s impressive skill set doesn’t extend to is accounting, given that the city counsel has made budget cuts to the Baywatch department yet again. In a shrewd PR move, Captain Thorp (Rob Huebel) has brought on Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a former two-time gold medalist swimmer, whose bad boy antics have him in need of a place to sign off on his community service.Efron and Johnson seem like perfect foils of the old “buddy cop” variety that proved so successful in the 80’s and 90’s, except they never really strike that chord. Efron’s Brody alternates between various levels of ignorance and stupidity. Johnson, always the paragon of cool, spends the majority of his time berating Efron, or bounding headfirst to the next set piece. The only reason his Mitch works at all is entirely due to Johnson’s natural charisma.

The “case”, as it were, deals with drugs and bodies washing ashore thanks to Priyanka Chopra’s real estate mogul moonlighting as a drug dealer (just don’t call her that). No sense is given to how far reaching her plan is, outside of making the beach private, but Chopra nevertheless commands what could easily be a thankless role.Chopra isn’t alone in getting an underdeveloped part, as the script constantly sidelines all the women. While they may attempt give them the lightest of redeeming qualities, that should never be a worthy excuse.

CJ (Kelly Rohrback), the confident and bubbly blonde is relegated merely to being the love interest to goofball Ronnie (Jon Bass) after he makes the team based on the size of his heart (instead of life saving know-how). Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), on the other hand, is extremely fierce and appropriately placed as Mitch’s second-in-command. The easiest explanation for her disappearance is that presumably someone has to watch the beach.

That leaves us with Summer (Alexandra Daddario), one of the team’s newest recruits. She’s overjoyed by being selected, but the film can’t be bothered to give her much to do outside of stand around in most scenes, literally. She’s allowed to saddle up with Efron & Johnson for stretches of time, then only gets a bare minimum of lines.

Many of these​ faults could be overlooked provided the comedy was more than adequate. No one’s going to a film like this for the plot or craft, just the hope of a few laughs. In that regard it’s really a mixed bag.

What Baywatch believes to be good joke involves taking a small nugget of an idea and stretching it out for 7-10 minutes. At least that would be a good explanation for three excruciatingly extended sequences involving male genetalia.

Not to be undone, director Seth Gordon (Four Christmases) also try to manufacture sympathy for characters, just to cover all bases. Brody himself ends up with a tragic backstory, even proving how aware he is of his misgivings. Never again does the movie acknowledge this revelation, which makes the incessant teasing or prodding he receives come off more than a little cruel.

Try as it might, and it tries waaaay too hard, Baywatch find itself square on the middle of the tv-movie reboot scale. Never reaching the brilliant heights of 21 Jump Street, it also narrowly avoids the painfully unfunny slog of Chips. A handful of chuckles are elicited over its 116 minutes. It’s not exactly cause for celebration.

Paramount could stand to go more absurd should they get another go around. The most likely candidate is embracing the second season of Baywatch Nights. You know, that’s the show that featured a private investigator going toe to toe with vampires, serial killers and time travel. Now that is something Johnson and Efron could easily equate themselves to.

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