"Baywatch" Is Less Fun Than A Mouthful Of Sand

Now, for a quick glimpse into the mind of a writer working on “Baywatch,” feature film:

“Okay, so the action has done its rising and all that’s left is for our hero to drop a huge one-liner on the big baddie before literally blowing her to smithereens. We could go against the movie’s grain and give him something witty to say, or, how about this? ‘I scratch my back with a whale’s dick and loofah my chest with its ball sack.’ Yeah, let’s go ball sack.”

Based on the interminably long-running television program of the same name, “Baywatch” 2017 rips a page or fifty out of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s “Jump Street” playbook to about one-sixteenth the return. Strangely enough, the film eschews most of its source material’s slow motion swimsuit shots and cheeseball lifeguard drama for a largely unfunny Dwayne Johnson-Zac Efron buddy cop format that conflates being dumb with being funny. A couple of jokes – the best is a recurring gag involving an aquarium figurine – are good for a few smirks. The other 110-plus minutes are only good for contemplating one’s own bad decision-making. (You bought a ticket to – or pressed play on – a “Baywatch” movie. Own it.)

Director Seth Gordon continues his nosedive from 2007’s brilliantly funny gaming documentary “The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters.” At this point his fall seems like an outright rebellion against a having career in feature films. (Remember “Four Christmases?” Of course you don’t.) In concert with screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, Gordon has taken an inane franchise and injected even more inanity into it, prayerful that movie stars saying dirty things while lots of women wearing skimpy clothing look on is enough to fleece moviegoers out of hundreds of millions of dollars. Judging by early box office returns, audiences are so much wiser than the movie gives them credit for.

Dwayne Johnson leads as the David Hasselhoff-originated Mitch Buchannon, the crazily devoted leader of a South Florida lifeguard team. Efron (who now looks like if Crossfit were a person) co-stars as disgraced Olympian and new Baywatch recruit Matt Brody. Their female co-stars (Kelly Rohrbach as C.J., Alexandra Daddario as Summer, Ilfenesh Hadera as Stephanie) inexplicably play second fiddle to Johnson and Efron’s love-hate bromance, a relationship destined to sink or swim with the outcome of their investigation into a local narcotics ring.

Johnson might have first billing, but the true star of “Baywatch” is the R-rated comedy cliché. There’s the prerequisite male nudity, wherein Efron manhandles a corpse’s genitals; the schlubby guy (Jon Bass as Ronnie) who struggles to talk to girls but ultimately bags the blonde bombshell; and then there’s the Jump Street-esque self-commentary that’s pulled off with the grace of an ice dancer picking shards of ice from his mangled face. “This sounds like an entertaining but far-fetched TV show!” exclaims Efron’s character. Oh, we know, Zac. Because it’s a “Baywatch” movie. Good joke.

By the time the film lurches into its brief, pointless Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson cameos, “Baywatch” has taken on a decidedly numbing effect. This is the project’s biggest accomplishment. That it is so consistently unfunny that it lulls us into a kind of comedic coma. We just watch, gradually anesthetized by the steady stream of half-assed nonsense unfolding in front of us. Eventually it all becomes weirdly reassuring.

In the end, which comes all too late but mercifully, nonetheless, the only big laugh is on us. For watching a “Baywatch” movie.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: May 25, 2017
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Seth Gordon
Screenwriters: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Jon Bass, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Hannibal Buress
MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity)