By Chaz Lipp
Maybe co-screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift were the wrong folks to reboot the ’90s cheese-fest TV series Baywatch as a big budget, big screen comedy. Their biggest claims to fame are horror flicks Freddy vs. Jason and the 2009 Friday the 13th remake. After spending two hours with lifeguards Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) and Matt (Zac Efron), you’ll wish Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees would make slash-o-rific cameos and clear the whole beach out. The film is an exercise in unfunniness. Not sure what’s worse, this or the recent CHiPs (actually, higher production values give Baywatch the edge, barely).
As far as semi-ironic reboots go, why isn’t Baywatch as fresh as 21 Jump Street? Or even, say, Starsky and Hutch? Probably because director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief) seems resolutely convinced that the Baywatch brand itself will be enough to send audiences into hysterics (two cameos figure prominently in the opening credits, ruining any chance for even mild surprise). Clad in red swimsuits and running in perpetual slow-motion, Mitch and his lifeguard squad behave as law enforcement officers. The joke is how seriously they take themselves. Matt is a two-time Olympic gold medalist who fell from grace due to hard drinking. Mitch doesn’t believe he’s Baywatch material, but local bureaucrats force his hand. Matt’s going to have to work harder than anyone to prove his worth.
Most of the gags feel borrowed from other, funnier sources. And most of those gags involve the terminally awkward Ronnie (Jon Bass), a longtime Baywatch hopeful who has finally earned a place on the team. When he gets his genitalia stuck between the slats of a beach chair, you’ll think of There’s Something About Mary. On the subject of Ronnie’s privates, when it’s revealed he’s super-endowed you’ll recall Neighbors (coincidentally another Zac Efron romp). When Ronnie must distract a villain with an elaborate dance routine, it’s Guardians of the Galaxy redux. And an extended exposed-penis sequence, something apparently de rigueur for raunch-fests these days, will bring to mind all similarly graphic sight gags. There’s certainly no shock value left in a mainstream star handling a realistic (albeit prosthetic, in this case) member.
As uninspired as all that may sound, it’s the best Baywatch has to offer. Nagging away behind all the silliness is a drug trafficking plot that is so leaden it weighs down the whole movie. As Mitch, Matt, C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach), and Summer (Alexandra Daddario) try to uncover the corruption in their city, the comedy eventually shifts into a straightforward action mode. It’s as if scribes Shannon and Swift forgot to write jokes for the third act. Or maybe director Gordon thought the action thrills were strong enough to carry the film without humor. Whatever the case, it’s unlikely the sequel teased by one character late in the film will ever come to fruition.
Baywatch images: Paramount Pictures