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‘Baywatch’ sinks rather than swims

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Reboot has plenty of T&A, but not enough heart

Living as we do in an era where any and all pop culture relics are potential cinematic reboots waiting to happen, it should come as no surprise that “updated self-aware appropriation of an ostensibly serious TV show” has become its own subgenre. There have been successes (“21 Jump Street”) and failures (oh god “CHiPS”) of course, but that hasn’t kept Hollywood from continuing to try.

This brings us to “Baywatch,” the latest effort along those lines. For those unfamiliar, “Baywatch” was a campy show about lifeguards that starred David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. It ran from 1989 to 2001, largely in syndication. It was inane and shallow and – for a surprisingly long stretch – weirdly popular. Unfortunately, this big-screen version – while dialing up the raunch factor considerably – largely fails to find the (admittedly inexplicable) charm of the original.

What charm there is comes largely from everyone’s favorite future president Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who stars as lifeguard Mitch Buchannon. He and his team of lifeguards – Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera, TV’s “Billions”) and CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrback, “Café Society”) in particular – are responsible for protecting the bay.

But when disgraced Olympic gold-medal swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron, “The Disaster Artist”) is brought in by the higher-ups to improve the group’s image, the dynamic is upset. And when trainees such as the go-getter Summer (Alexandria Daddario, “The Choice”) and tryhard tech whiz Ronnie (Jon Bass, “Loving”) are in the mix, well … things get complicated.

Even more complicated is the presence of Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra, TV’s “Quantico”), a real estate developer whose more secretive actions seem more than a little nefarious. She’s got the city council in her pocket and nothing to fear from law enforcement.

But Baywatch, that’s a different story.

It’s up to Mitch to bring his team together, to overcome their differences and find a way to save the day. And maybe – just maybe – they’ll become a family along the way.

Of course, there will also be drowning rescues and boat fires and oiled abs and slow-motion running and jet-ski chases and cleavage; really, everything you’d expect to see in anything with “Baywatch” in the title.

“Baywatch” has all the pieces. You’ve got a top-of-his-game Dwayne Johnson as your star with an in-his-lane Zac Efron by his side. You’ve got a director in Seth Gordon who has a good sense for this sort of comedy and two guys from “The State” with story credits. Plus, you’ve got a property that is fondly remembered despite not being all that good. By all rights, it should work.

But it doesn’t. At least, not as well as it probably could have.

Don’t get me wrong – I had a good time at “Baywatch.” There are a few solid gags and a couple of entertainingly ludicrous action sequences. But don’t go in expecting anything as smart and clever as the “21 Jump Street” movies that this film is pretty clearly hoping to emulate; it just doesn’t reach that level.

Johnson has the charm wattage cranked pretty high on this one – one shudders to think what might have resulted if he had decided to phone it in – and so is his standard magnetic self when he’s on-screen. Unfortunately, it seems as though the entirety of his direction was “You’re you, only a lifeguard.” Again – he’s engaging as heck, as usual, but it’s for naught.

When Efron stays close to his shirtless bro persona, he’s actually quite entertaining. Whether it’s “himbo d-bag” or “himbo with a heart of gold,” it works. It’s an ideal role for him. Bass as trainee Ronnie has a handful of solid moments; he shoulders much of the audience-winking load. The female portion of the cast doesn’t get much to do aside from stand around (or run slowly) in swimsuits. That said, Chopra is OK as the villain, though she’s kind of forgettable.

“Baywatch” struggles to find that ideal blend of poking fun at the ridiculousness of the conceit while still embracing it. Like many of its peers, it occasionally falls into the trap of mistaking something crass for something funny (though it does make good use of its R-rating in one extended bit involving male nudity; the bit made me laugh, though I don’t feel great about what that says about me as a person).

It’s not a great movie – or even a good one – but “Baywatch” is a perfectly acceptable summer comedy, a forgettable flick with a few good jokes and assorted attractive body parts. You could do worse.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Friday, 26 May 2017 10:18

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