Film Review: Baywatch

Veteran lifeguard and untrained rookie fight a drug ring in another big-screen reboot of a mediocre TV series.
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A guilty pleasure for TV addicts in the 1990s, Baywatch returns as escapist summer fare, a bit of fluff dropping in between comic-book blockbusters. Anchored by Dwayne Johnson in his latest step toward global domination, it's a corporate version of an R-rated comedy, neither as bad nor as funny as it could have been.

Johnson replaces series star David Hasselhoff (who appears in a cameo, as does Pamela Anderson) as Mitch Buchanan, the tough, no-nonsense leader of highly photogenic lifeguards at Emerald Bay. His crew includes bombshell C.J. Parker (swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach in Anderson's old role) and second-in-command Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera).

During annual tryouts, we meet three new additions: hopeless nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass), newbie Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), and washed-up Olympics star Matt Brody (Zac Efron), assigned to the beach for community service.

Mitch has no use for the self-absorbed Matt, showering him with insult nicknames—One Direction, High School Musical, Baby Gap—that are the wittiest things in the script. Of course, their animosity will grow into a bromance, one fueled more by competitive musculature than genuine feeling.

There's a plot, something about drugs, real estate development and aspiring Bond villain Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra in full diva mode), but the storyline is primarily an excuse to let the leads dress up for parties in resorts and on yachts. The half-dozen credited writers fashion a couple of fights and a pretty fair chase, but their hearts just aren't into the mechanics of linking scenes into a coherent pattern.

What Baywatch spends the most time on is making fun of the TV series. Matt calls one plot development something out of "an entertaining but far-fetched TV show," as if pointing out how ludicrous the writing is somehow excuses it.

On the other hand, viewers aren't coming to Baywatch for apocalyptic fury or special-effects superpowers or cunning deductions, they are there to see the bodies, the beach, and hear some jokes. Baywatch steals shamelessly from the 21 Jump Street template, minus the comic interplay and effective slapstick.

Johnson pulls off a decent performance, adding some snap to his dialogue and displaying enough beef for his fans. He carries the film just like he carries refrigerators in a training sequence, showing all the effort but impressive just the same.

Efron is a game foil, especially when poking around genitalia in an excruciatingly drawn-out morgue sequence. But he's not much of an actor. Chopra looks like she's having fun, while the others basically get to stand around watching the action.

Cynical rip-off or affectionate sendup? Baywatch consumers aren't going to care that much either way. It's a movie that with a little care could have been much better. But honestly, it's more fun than some Hollywood product, and it will find a better reception in the heartland than with critics. That said, the odds for the sequel promised in the closing credits are extremely low.

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