[Screen It]

"BAYWATCH"
(2017) (Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action-Comedy: The leader of a lifeguard team clashes with its newest, self-centered member, all while they contend with possible criminal activity around them.
PLOT:
Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (DWAYNE JOHNSON) is the undisputed leader of the Baywatch lifeguard team at Emerald Bay. Even so, he must still follow orders from Captain Thorpe (ROB HUEBEL), and the latest directive isn't sitting well with him. While he welcomes the likes of Summer Quinn (ALEXANDRA DADDARIO) and the less than in shape but enthusiastic Ronnie Greenbaum (JON BASS) to try out for the squad, Mitch isn't pleased that Thorpe -- in need of some community PR -- has pressured him into accepting Matt Brody (ZAC EFRON) without question. While Matt is more than qualified -- he's a two-time Olympic Gold Medal swimmer -- his self-centeredness cost his Olympic relay team any chance of winning, and he clearly hasn't learned his lesson or changed his ways.

Thus, and with the help of current lifeguards CJ Parker (KELLY ROHRBACH) and Stephanie Holden (ILFENESH HADERA), Mitch welcomes to his squad Ronnie -- who has a crush on CJ, something not lost on his friend, Dave (HANNIBAL BURESS) -- along with Summer and Matt. The latter quickly learns there's more to lifeguarding than he expected, including when a city councilman ends up dead on a burning boat, something that heightens Mitch's suspicions about local luxury club owner Victoria Leeds (PRIYANKA CHOPRA) and his belief that she's involved in dealing drugs, what with small packets of them washing up on his shores.

Like local cop Sgt. Ellerbee (YAHYA ABDUL-MATEEN II), Matt believes such matters are best left to the police, but Mitch sees such criminal activity -- and now possibly murder -- affecting his community and believes it's his and his squad's duty to help put an end to that. As he and Matt continue to clash over that role and other matters, they must contend with Victoria and her goons not being pleased with them sniffing around.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I don't recall exactly when I watched my one and only episode of "Baywatch," but it was sometime during the TV drama's 1989 to 1999 run. Of course, I knew of the show's existence, but even the thought of watching Pamela Anderson running in slow motion in a high-cut, red, one-piece bathing suit wasn't enticement enough to sit through what I heard was a fairly lame show.

Even so, when I read that it had a weekly worldwide TV audience north of one billion people, I figured I had to check it out to see if there was anything more to it than an excuse to gawk. I have no idea what that particular episode was about, but beyond Anderson's considerable assets, there wasn't enough to make me ever tune in again.

Flash forward several decades and -- natch, considering the dearth of creativity in Hollywood and apparent fear of creating anything original -- we now have a big screen movie based on that show. Granted, I might have had the same negative reaction back when I first heard they were making a "Brady Bunch" movie to be released in the theaters. Thankfully, it was a brilliant, no-holds-barred, satirical send-up of a mediocre TV show that I happened to watch religiously as a kid.

And thus when I sat down for our press screening of this two-hour flick, I crossed my critic fingers and hoped that lightning would strike twice in such regards. Alas, while there are a few moments and lines of dialogue that poke fun at the original show (as well as the overall storyline concept of lifeguards going well above and beyond the call of duty), this is otherwise just a fairly straightforward and regular, albeit very R-rated and ultimately mediocre, action-comedy offering that works from the same basic premise that fueled the original material.

Here, Dwayne Johnson replaces David Hasselhoff as Lt. Mitch Buchannon, the leader of the Emerald Bay lifeguard patrol, while swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach gets the honor of imitating Anderson's famous ultra-slow-mo jog along the beach (a briefly funny bit has other characters commenting on why it always looks like she's running in slow motion).

The plot -- courtesy of Damian Shannon & Mark Swift -- revolves around the time of year when they're testing new lifeguard recruits to see if they'd be a good fit to join them in protecting beachgoers not only from the usual dangers of high surf, riptides, jellyfish, and sharks, but also any criminal activity that might wash up on their shores, such as drug dealing.

While they readily accept characters played by Alexandra Daddario and Jon Bass onto their squad (despite the latter being out of shape and seemingly more inclined to appear in a comedy porno flick as related to an early "he got his 'what' stuck in a beach chair?" visual gag), Mitch isn't pleased that his boss is forcing a washed-up, egotistical and self-centered former Olympic gold medalist swimmer onto the team.

That character is played by Zac Efron who by now can play such jerky, thorn-in-your-side characters in his sleep, and thus Matt and Mitch clash from the get-go, resulting in the leader giving the newbie all sorts of demeaning nicknames (the best of which is calling him "High School Musical").

As that adversarial relationship is supposed to generate plenty of laughs (it delivers a few, but not as many as it could and should have), the rest of the story revolves around the lifeguard squad trying to prove that a local businesswoman (Priyanka Chopra) is actually behind the drug dealing and more, putting them at odds not only with her and her throwaway henchmen, but also a local cop (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who believes the lifeguards should stick to their given job.

Director Seth Gordon ("Identity Thief," "Horrible Bosses") tries to blend the comedy and action elements together into a satisfying entertainment concoction, but the results are middling at best despite the efforts of the always charismatic Johnson who was seemingly born to appear in such mixed genre films.

Of course, a lot of one's appreciation of such material depends on whether you find things such as manipulating a dead man's genitals or having gobs of corpse fat dripping into one's mouth as funny. I'll admit that the comedy works better than the fairly uninspired action sequences, but that's not saying a great deal about the quality of what's offered.

While it has its moments, I think all involved would have been better served going much further and deeper into true satire. After all, a show most famous for slow-mo views of bouncing boobs deserves nothing more than a terrific spoof, something the "Brady Bunch" movie and "Airplane" flicks proved could work quite well. Such an approach could have been the cinematic life preserver this film would have needed to win over critics like me. "Baywatch" ultimately sinks and thus rates no higher than a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed May 18, 2017 / Posted May 25, 2017


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