Baywatch the original television series, ran for from 1989 to 1999. It was, for a time, the most popular television show in the world. Let that sink in. It made star David Hasselhoff– who was already very famous for talking to an intelligent 1982 Pontiac Trans Am in the television series Knight Rider–as famous as a man could be. Hasselhoff (aka The Hoff) played Mitch Buchannon, the head of a dedicated band of Los Angeles County lifeguards. This involved Mitch dispensing wise advice to his youthful team who spent much of their time running in slow-motion and diving off piers, boats, pontoons, jet-skis–pretty much any water-adjacent structure–to save citizens from marine peril.
The show was lightweight fun; escapism for an audience who wanted simple crimes solved, and hazardous rescues achieved by a crew of young, swimwear-clad hotties, both male and female. The show is more than twenty years old, so naturally it was time for a big screen remake.
BAYWATCH the movie acknowledges the innocent tone of the series and makes numerous gags–through the character of local policeman Garner Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II)– about lifeguards who think their job is to fight crime. This time the action has moved to Florida and the fictional Emerald Bay. Mitch is now played by Dwayne Johnson. The surf, sand and lycra factor remain, but the storytelling is more comedic.
Drugs and crime arrive at Emerald Bay and Mitch pledges to get to the bottom of it. He suspects the mastermind behind this crime-wave is Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) the glamorous new owner of the upscale Huntley Club. Meanwhile the normally tight-knit lifeguards must deal with a reluctant recruit, Matt Brody (Zac Efron). Brody is a disgraced former Olympic swimmer who needs a lesson in humility. And Mitch is the man to teach Brody that lesson.
The movie is something of a bro-fest with the Mitch and Brody rivalry as the source of many of the gags. If you regard two jacked bro-dudes busting each other’s chops, as the perfect dynamic for screen comedy, grab a protein bar, this movie is cranking that up to 11. To be fair, the duo has decent screen chemistry. (Sidebar: Efron and Johnson in a movie version of WAITING FOR GODOT–make it happen Zeitgeist.) Jon Bass, Kelly Rohrbach and Alexandra Daddario round out the on-the-beach team. Rob Heubel is Mitch’s PR-obsessed superior. Pamela Anderson of the TV series makes a cameo, as does The Hoff.
Director Seth Gordon (HORRIBLE BOSSES) has taken a script that was worked on by six different writers and creates an uneven action-comedy. Some of the laughs are of the gross-out variety. There are plenty of dirty gags; the language and concepts have earned it an MA rating in Australia. The crime story is undemanding and at times uninvolving. Dwayne Johnson’s undeniable screen charisma pretty much drags this picture over the line, much as Mitch drags the refrigerators tied to his back in one of the movie’s over-the-top comedy set-pieces.
BAYWATCH runs for 116 minutes. (6/10)