Friday, May 26, 2017

The Waters Of 'Baywatch' Are Tepid, At Best



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.
I lived through the 90's and somehow managed get through the entire decade without ever watching a single episode of Baywatch. But it's a testament to that show's weirdly global popularity that I still know who some of the cast was (Pamela Anderson, Yasmine Bleeth, international superstar David Hasselhoff), what it was about (beach lifeguards who also managed to thwart a lot of crime), and why people watched it (several big bouncing reasons). Those last features were the show's biggest (pun intended) appeal, which is why it's odd that it's inspired a limp reboot obsessed with dicks.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of boobs in this Baywatch, but less attention is paid to the bouncing kind than to the kind played by Zac Efron. He plays idiot Olympic swimmer Matt Brody, a character clearly modeled after Ryan Lochte, though with a little more public puking involved. After a minor crime Brody was sentenced to community service, and Captain Thorne (Rob Huebel) wants him to serve that time in the Baywatch to help bring publicity, and possibly money, to the fledgling program.

Lieutenant Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) is fiercely opposed, suspecting Brody is nothing but a selfish pretty boy, and won't be a team player. In a try-out, Brody proves himself reckless but effective, and also there wouldn't be a movie if he wasn't let on the team so on board he comes, along with fellow recruits Summer (Alexandra Daddario), a blue-eyed brunette Brody hopes to bag, and Ronnie (Jon Bass), a doughy nerd who gets to join because the movie needs comic relief.

Together with C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) they are a tight-knit team of red-clad lifeguards who barely have time to save people from drowning; they're too busy trying to thwart evil hotel owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) and her plan to drive down beach property prices by flooding the area with drugs, with the ultimate goal of buying up the beachfront and making it a private club.

Obviously there are people around the world who found David Hasselhoff appealing (or at least people in Germany), but his presence as the star of the TV show helps explain why its women (and their physiques) were much more memorable. But in the movie, we're dealing with Dwayne Johnson, who wasn't called The Rock for nothing, and Efron, who has never looked more unreal. There are several moments in the film where Efron's torso is the center of attention, and it looks so much like a caricature of a "ripped male body" that I was almost convinced it was CGI. Who can bother to look at the women when there's so much flexing going on?

Baywatch tries to be self-aware and meta on a few occasions, like when someone notices that it always looks like C.J. is running in slow motion, or when Brody points out that all of the past crimes the Baywatch team have solved sound like farfetched plots from a bad TV show. But it doesn't go far enough with that kind of of parody, which was used much more effectively in another 90's TV show-turned-movie-reboot, 21 Jump Street. Instead, the humor is centered on tits and dicks. (Though I do have to give the movie some credit for keeping those tits covered, and saving the nudity for one of those aforementioned dicks.)

Zac Efron, killer bod or not, is about as charismatic as a Ken doll. He's devoid of anything that feels genuine, be it talent or personality. And it's not enough to give him the dumb blonde role if you're going to leave the majority of the women in the film completely forgettable. Only Chopra seems to realize scene-chewing is the only route to take with a movie so tepid.

While Dwayne Johnson brings his megawatt charm to his role, nothing ever matches the killer combination of him plus ridiculous stunts seen during the opening credits, which ends with the film's title emerging from the same sea as Johnson and a trio of high-fiving dolphins. More surreal stuff like that, and you might have had something original. Instead, it's just dead in the water.

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