27th May2017

‘Baywatch’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Alexandra Daddario, Jon Bass, Rob Huebel | Written by Damian Shannon, Mark Swift | Directed by Seth Gordon

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It’s hard to believe this is the same guy who made King of Kong – although entirely believable that it comes from the director of Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief. Seth Gordon’s retro reboot of the ‘90s sandy soap opera strives for look-at-how-dumb-things-were irony but just comes off as mean-spirited and juvenile. It’s more Carry On than 21 Jump Street.

The basic plot is straight out of a Baywatch episode, albeit stretched graphene-thin across two punishing hours. Led by Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) and his righthand woman, Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), the Baywatch team are conducting trials at Emerald Bay. Three lucky contenders will get to join the squad and be trained as hero lifeguards.

Those in contention include the plucky Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), the nerdy-yet-hearty Ronnie (Jon Bass), and two-time Olympic gold medal winner Brody (Zac Efron). The latter is particularly useless, but his selection is enforced by Mitch’s boss, Captain Thorne (Rob Huebel), apparently for PR reasons.

Meanwhile, ruthless real estate tycoon Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) is flooding the region with hard drugs as way of driving down property prices. She’s also bribing local politicians – and her methods are turning to murder. As Mitch and his crew struggle to fashion the noobs into effective lifesavers, they find themselves (for reasons still muddy in my mind) taking on the job of local detectives, investigating the Leeds empire, while uncovering widespread corruption along the way.

So, it’s a standard ‘Wholesome Good versus Corporate Evil’ storyline. And we the audience are completely aware of what’s going on long before the heroes, so we don’t even get the nominal thrill of sharing in the discovery.

The humour is almost entirely of the sniggering sexual variety, or simply profane. Yet, even though it’s 15-rated and f-bombed into oblivion, it’s no racier than the original series. The only nudity is a scene in which Brody must inspect a dead man’s perineum. This deeply unfunny sequence is also indicative of the movie’s underlying phobia of all things which aren’t heteronormative, whether it’s two men kissing, or a man dressed as a woman. These things weren’t funny twenty years before the original Baywatch series began, let alone in 2017.

Whatever little character development exists is as predictable as the tide. We know that Brody is going to redeem himself as soon as he’s introduced as an big-headed douchebag. Likewise, we know that the overweight nerd will end up with the hot blonde – although, this being the film it is, C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach) doesn’t choose him out of respect or admiration but for his “foot-long”.

Which reminds me: there’s a very tiresome sequence where Ronnie gets his genitals stuck in a sun lounger, and a large crowd gathers around him. Thing is, in There’s Something About Mary (from which the setup is obviously stolen), the scene is smartly staged and relevant to the character. In Baywatch, it is surplus and played purely for cruelty. I can accept humour that isn’t grown-up, but this movie takes us into Adam Sandler’s Grown-Ups territory. End credits bloopers confirm our suspicions that more fun was had making the film than we have watching it.

Par for the course, we get a couple of perfunctory cameos from original cast members. This constitutes David Hasselhoff dropping in for the day (and, terrifyingly, teasing a sequel), and Pamela Anderson swanning onto the set for – what? – ten minutes, tops.

It’s not a complete wash-out. Dwayne Johnson is as appealingly earnest as ever, and Efron selflessly portrays a kid buoyed solely by his ego. Mitch has an amusing tendency to refer to Brody by boy band names. There’s a pretty funny fight scene in a child’s bedroom, which sees the combatants using squeaky toys as weapons. And Mitch has a tiny figurine of himself in a fish tank, which seems to change its pose depending on his situation. But these moments are flotsam in a sea of tedium.

I haven’t even mentioned yet the poorly edited action, excessive and completely wonky CGI (the boat fire is like something out of an old FMV game), and the cheapo greenscreen. They may be aiming for the a low-budget TV aesthetic, but bear in mind that Baywatch cost almost $30m more to put on the screen than John Wick 2.

Baywatch was always infatuated with prettiness, yet it’s never been so ugly underneath. This is a pointless reboot which should be avoided like shark-infested waters. The red flag has been raised.

Baywatch is out in cinemas from 29th May 2017.

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