Los Angeles (AP) – Of this, dear moviegoer, rest assured: Dwayne Johnson’s biceps still ripple and glisten in the sunlight. So do his triceps, pecs, abs, delts, quads, lats and the other 600 or so muscles of the human body.
And that charismatic, multi-million dollar grin? Still there, too.
But the dude isn’t a magician. And only a true magician could find a way to make something light and fun and fresh out of the unwieldy, derivative and mostly unfunny endeavor that is “Baywatch.”
Now, maybe the filmmakers weren’t thinking light and fun and fresh. They opted to make an R-rated film, upping the raunch factor of the ’90s TV series starring David Hasselhoff and a slo-mo running Pamela Anderson. But the R rating doesn’t mean they’ve gone all dark and deep; it just seems to mean lots of raunchy language, humping gags and extended crotch shots. That last category includes a centerpiece scene in which our two leading men, Johnson and Zac Efron, play around with a penis on a corpse in a morgue. Yes, that’s actually what they do.
Let’s try to wipe that image out of our brains now, shall we? “Baywatch,” directed by Seth Gordon, begins by establishing the heart and brawn of our main guy, Mitch Buchannon, leader of the Baywatch squad and hometown hero. We see him hurtling into the water to save a kitesurfer from certain death. Running along the beach, he ducks into a basketball game to expertly block a shot. He passes an adoring beachgoer building an elaborate sand sculpture of him.
But his PR-obsessed boss needs to embellish the Baywatch brand, so he brings in a new guy — Matt Brody (Efron), a gold-medal Olympic swimmer who has a bit of an attitude problem (any resemblance to Ryan Lochte, including mouth grill, is totally intentional.) It seems that after a night of drinking at the Olympics, Brody vomited in the pool and ruined his team’s chance to win the relay.
He may not be a team player, but he IS ripped, and so, after Brody shows up on his motorcycle looking all James Dean, shirts come off and we get our obligatory macho competition, which includes lifting two refrigerators at once. “This has nothing to do with saving people!” complains Brody. Mitch grunts back: “This is Baywatch!”
In any case, Brody joins the squad, which includes sexy blonde CJ (Kelly Rohrbach, running slowly), ambitious Summer (Alexandra Daddario), Mitch’s co-leader Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), and Ronnie (Jon Bass), chubby and awkward, in the young Jonah Hill role.
Now, if you never saw the TV show, a key point of the plot — though plot is definitely NOT key — is that these lifeguards don’t just save kids in deep waters. They’re also crime-solvers. So when a city councilman ends up dead in a boat fire, they figure out pretty fast that he was murdered.
But why? Could this have anything to do with villainous Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), a club owner whose ambitions for Emerald Bay include some very sinister side activities? And can the squad manage to solve the case and stay alive?
It eventually gets wearisome, despite the best efforts of Efron and especially Johnson, who can enliven any scene. His disdainful mocking of Efron’s character is one of the more amusing themes, especially the nicknames he uses: “Hey, One Direction.” ‘’Yo, ‘N Sync.” Best of all: “High School Musical.”
But darned if that quick reference to Efron’s breakout franchise doesn’t make you all nostalgic for some old-fashioned entertainment that didn’t rely on F-bombs, crude anatomical references, or toying with a corpse. (Sorry to bring that up again, but, UGH.)
Or maybe just some old episodes of “Baywatch.” In one meta reference, a skeptical Brody tells the squad that their crime-busting plans sound like “a really entertaining but far-fetched TV show.”
That doesn’t sound so bad, in retrospect.
“Baywatch,” a Paramount release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity.” Running time: 116 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.