On the surface “Baywatch,” the big screen reboot of the cheesy 1980s television show, is about beach bunnies who uncover a criminal plot that may bring with it trouble to the Baywatch lifeguards. That’s the logline, but in reality it’s actually about nostalgia, hard beach bodies and the inestimable charisma of its star (and possible presidential candidate) Dwayne Johnson.
Johnson takes over for TV lifeguard David Hasselhoff as Californian Mitch Buchannon, the gung ho leader of the elite Baywatch lifeguard squad. “Our team is the elite of the elite,” he says. “The heart and soul of the beach.” He’s a beach superstar, so beloved people curve giant sand sculptures in his honour. He keeps the waters safe but there is trouble brewing.
The Bay isn’t drawing them in like it used to and City Council has cut their funding. To stir up some publicity, and perhaps attract a few more bikini clad sunbathers, beach bigwig Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel) hires troubled Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron). He’s the “Stephen Hawking of swimming” with two gold medals but he’s also a troublemaker on probation.
“That’s why we can afford him,” says Thorpe. “We got him on his community service.”
Brody butts heads with the Baywatch team—Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) and CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach)—but especially Buchannon. The new guy may be one of the best swimmers in the world but he’s a loner and doesn’t play well with the team. “He’s reckless and insubordinate,” says Buchannon.
Despite their differences when they aren’t rescuing people from the briny depths the team is forced to come together to uncover a nefarious plot by businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) to privatise the entire bay. “I’m not a Bond villain,” she coos. “Yet.”
Cue the wet and wild action.
“Baywatch” is one of the most popular TV shows of all time and it wasn’t because it was a searing examination of the human experience, tinted with dollops of wry humour or shrewdly pointed satire. It was because it featured SloMo teen dreams come to life, cleavage galore and cheesy action. The movie is a bigger budget version of the same. There’s no real stakes. We know things will get damp and dangerous for Mitch and Company but by the time the end credits roll everything will have sorted itself out and a sequel will be firmly in place. There’s plenty of action, gunfire and juggernauting jet skies but no jeopardy of any kind, just a generic crime story dressed up in a skimpy bathing suit.
Beyond the sea bound action is a crude sense of fun. The big screen “Baywatch” pokes gentle fun at its small screen sibling. “Why does she always looks like she’s running in slow motion?” asks new recruit Summer of CJ’s beach gait. “Do you see it too?” replies Ronnie. As the action bounces along the dumb and/or gross jokes begin to pile up threatening to crush the whole thing under their weight.
Johnson brings muscle and comic timing while Efron brings abs of steel and a willingness to do almost anything for a laugh. He doesn’t always hit the mark but you have to give him high marks for leaving his dignity at the door.
The supporting cast aren’t given much to do other than glam it up—in the party scenes—or strip down—in the beach scenes. Kelly Rohrbach it’s time for your (cleavage’s) close up. You get the idea. As the overweight and eager Ronnie, Bass is Josh Gadd Lite or maybe an echo of early Jack Black.
Depending on your point of view “Baywatch” is either a mindless summer diversion or a continuation of Hollywood’s exploitation of our collective nostalgia. Judge your interest level accordingly. Either way it fails to grab the raucous good times of “21 Jump Street,” another, more successful TV reboot.