May 26, 2017

Baywatch

One of these things is not like the other

Grade: C –
Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Priyanka Chopra and Hannibal Buress
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Stuck between a Rock and a hard place, Baywatch is a parody in search of a purpose. Any success among the recent proliferation of films spoofing outdated television series has always hinged on accentuating the kitsch in ways both witty and outlandish. It’s why 21 Jump Street, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the first Brady Bunch movie worked, while most of the rest did not.

The main conundrum facing director Seth Gordon’s Baywatch is that it’s hard to lampoon source material already grounded in cheesy narratives and conspicuous exploitation. Baywatch suffers an identity crisis: it can’t decide whether it wants to be a straight reboot or a R-rated bawdy comedy. It ends up trying for both and accomplishing neither.

There are drugs being smuggled into Emerald Bay by a voluptuous and dastardly land developer (Priyanka Chopra). So it’s up to Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his titular lifeguard squad to solve the mystery and save the day. The superhuman Mitch has 500 saves during his lifeguarding career, earning the adoration of beachgoers who build sand castle effigies in his honor. We’re told repeatedly that Baywatch is an elite life-saving unit whose rigorous qualifications may even be too stringent for newbie Matt Brody (Zac Efron), an Olympic washout who arrives with two gold medals around his neck and a plea deal that requires community service. The rest of the film’s opening act revolves around Ronnie (Jon Bass), the resident portly dork. Ronnie receives the Heimlich maneuver from curvy blond lifeguard C.J. Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) and gets his junk stuck in a beach chair, a horry Farrelly brothers-style sight gag that’s as dated as the “Baywatch” TV show. So, it’s the height of plot contrivance when Ronnie’s inexplicably one of only two recruits chosen from dozens during Baywatch tryouts.

It’s an endless string of beach bods and boob jokes as Mitch and co. track down the baddies while getting pushback from the local authorities. Meanwhile, Matt’s self-destructive recklessness puts him at odds with Mitch. Their alpha-male flexing produces Mitch’s running gag of emasculating Matt with monikers like “One Direction,” “N’Sync,” “Bieber,” “McDreamy,” and, of course, “High School Musical.” But any promising punchlines are quickly beaten like a dead seahorse. Others, like Matt having to inspect a corpse’s taint after they sneak into a morgue, are just tasteless.

Even Johnson’s considerable charisma can’t save this waterlogged caper held together by neoprene and bad CGI. Cameos by a couple of actors from original TV show only remind us of the sad consequences of chemical abuse/enhancement. Drowning in a sea of mirthless futility, Baywatch isn’t worth saving.