A film review by Craig J. Koban June 16, 2017

BAYWATCH j

2017, R, 116 mins.

 

Dwayne Johnson as Mitch Buchannon  /  Zac Efron as Matt Brody  /  Alexandra Daddario as Summer Quinn  /  Kelly Rohrbach as C.J. Parker  /  Priyanka Chopra as Victoria Leeds  /  Ilfenesh Hadera as Stephanie Holden  /  Rob Huebel as Captain Thorpe  /  Pamela Anderson as Casey Jean Parker  /  Hannibal Buress as Dave the Tech  /  Charlotte McKinney as Julia  /  David Hasselhoff as The Mentor

Directed by Seth Gordon  /  Written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift

I'll start this review with a very simple and beyond obvious question: 

Was anyone on planet Earth really clamoring for a big budget movie adaptation...of BAYWATCH? 

I pose this question after just having seen the extremely wrongheaded and pitifully awful CHiPS, another large scale silver screen appropriation of a small screen program.  BAYWATCH tries, I think, to be a would-be uproarious send-up of the original 1980's/1990's TV show of the same name that stared David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson and concerned L.A. County lifeguards patrolling the beaches, saving lives, and stopping crime.  The series was laughably non-transparent, though, about what it was: a trashy celebration of T and A, at least as much as a network could get away with twenty-plus years ago.  BAYWATCH was junk television, but I don't think it had any pretensions about what it was, nor was it trying to sell itself as something it was not.   

The BAYWATCH movie, on the other hand, takes the film's cheeky source material and harnesses it to hard R-rated levels of wanton crudeness.  Attempting to do what, for example, the 21 JUMP STREET films did before (and much more successfully),  director Seth Gordon desperately amps up the nauseating levels of raunch here, and in the process (a) never really re-captures the shows eye rolling cheesiness and (b) makes the fundamental mistake of confusing gross out humor, bodily fluid gags, graphic nudity, and f-bomb obsessed dialogue exchanges with high hilarity and shrewd satire.  BATWATCH is one of the most humorless and charmless adaptations of a TV show that I've ever had the displeasure of sitting through, which is made all the more damning considering that it mournfully squanders the limitless charm and appeal of Dwayne Johnson as a performer.   

 

 

Johnson appears as Mitch Buchannon, the Hasselhoffian ringer and leader of the aforementioned group of L.A. County lifeguards that takes his position as serious as a heart attack.  He's flanked by the film's requisite female eye candy that serve as key members of his team: Stephanie (Ilfrenesh Hadera), C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach, using her ample cleavage to do 99 per cent of the acting), and three others that are training to become all that they can be as lifeguards - Summer (The Rock's SAN ANDREAS co-star Alexandria Daddario), the tubby and out of shape Ronnie (a fingernails-on-a-chalkboard annoying Jon Bass), and former Olympic gold medallist swimmer Matt Brody (a slumming Zach Efron), who thinks he's above everyone else that's trying to make the team.  While the new recruits try to curb favors with their potential new boss in Mitch, a nefarious businesswoman (a completely un-menacing Priyanka Chopra) engages in a vast - and completely convoluted and nonsensical - scheme to turn the beaches into a vast drug smuggling empire.   

I will say this about BATWATCH: Almost all of the actors are irreproachably attractive and have remarkable bodies to look at (if anything, this film is an equal opportunist when it comes to ogling shots of both men and women in frequent states of undress that shows off their perfect frames).  That, and the film does contain some picturesque shots of its beaches at magic hour that are mightily impressive.  

That's where the accolades stop.

BAYWATCH is an unsavory comedy dead zone throughout its excruciatingly longwinded running time of nearly two hours (two...hours).  This is not assisted by an overall "plot" (sarcastic quotes intentional) about the female baddie involving narcotics, some shady real estate dealings, and - gasp! - multiple grizzly murders that are never once as compelling as this film thinks it is.  The film's borderline juvenile approach to humor is its prime undoing.  Part of what made, say, 21 JUMP STREET such a winning comedy is that it had fun lampooning the TV series that preceded it and had sweet and likeable characters that made its adult themed pratfalls work.  The makers of that film established a well oiled tone and maintained its consistency throughout it and its sequel.  BAYWATCH is an amateurish tonal disaster; this movie can never decide what it really wants to be.  Is it trying to be a semi-serious exploration of the mental rigors and physical dangers of lifeguard life?  Is it aiming to be a spoof of Hollywood action films and studio updates of small scale TV fare?  Is it aiming for the low brow and sensationalistic jiggle factor of the show that inspired it?  Is it aiming to be a monumentally crude and vulgar riff heavy comedy that pushes the boundaries of its rating?  

Gordon and his screenwriters' schizophrenic indifference to the material here is frankly off-putting. 

And why does a BAYWATCH movie need to be...unrelentingly dirty and foul mouthed?  I'm no prude at all, but this film suffers the same fate as the illogically engineered CHiPS in the sense that its end game is to be as mindlessly scatological as possible in hopes that carries the film.  Aside from a main title sequence - replete with CGI dolphins jumping over the title cards and high fiving each other - the insufferable jokes and hijinks on display here are distractingly unfunny within the film's first ten minutes.  Take, for instance, the character of Ronnie, an out of shape schlub that's supposed to be a riot because - wait for it - he's not carved out of granite like Johnson or Efron.  When the film's not engaging in fat shaming humor at his expense, it's placing him in revolting scenes that - I kid you not - have him getting his penis and testicles caught in-between a beach chair's slats, resulting in C.J. (whom he's crushing on) trying to get him out (he got his erection when she performed a Heimlich Maneuver on him while he was choking).  Penis centric gags don't end there, as is the case with a later scene in a morgue (don't ask) that involves the hapless stooge that is Matt fondling the naked junk of a corpse while looking for clues.   

I was in a cinema with roughly ten people while watching BATWATCH and there were zero laughs, let alone chuckles, to be heard during moments like this that humiliated good actors (Efron in particular has proven that he can do comedy, as was the case with the first NEIGHBORS film, but BATWATCH and efforts like DIRTY GRANDPA and MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES are making me rethink his acting chops to deliver sustained laughs).  The biggest sin of BAYWATCH, as mentioned, is Johnson appearing in this tasteless, paycheck grabbing dreck.  I admire him and find him to have an on-screen personality that's both electrifyingly charismatic and likeable.  He's made many films that I've greatly enjoyed.  But outside of a hefty payday, I don't have the foggiest idea why an intelligent and multi-talented performer like him thought that BAYWATCH was a winning star vehicle.  He's inexplicably also listed as a producer here, which is as confounding as it is shameful.   

The other massive disappointment here is Seth Gordon, who started his career making one of the most absorbing docs of recent memory in THE KING OF KING: A FIST FULL OF QUARTERS and then has devolved into one indefensibly putrid comedy after the other with IDENTITY THIEF, HORRIBLE BOSSES 2, and now this.  Very few comedies that I've seen lately have struggled so mightily to justify their existence - and their questionably distasteful handling of their material - as much as BAYWATCH.  It's a film that also unequivocally proves that nostalgia for properties only works on properties that were once adored by legions of fans.  When two BAYWATCH TV series regulars made cameos in the film I'm reasonably sure that many in attendance had no idea who they were.  

One of them also had a dialogue-free cameo.  She was arguably the smartest actress in this film as a direct result.  

One last thing:  The Rock took to Twitter recently to champion the supporters of this film and condemn its harsh critics.  He tweeted that "fans love it...critics hate it" and that people "just want to have fun" watching movies.  Firstly, BAYWATCH's audience score was barely over 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is not a ringing endorsement of your film by fans.  Secondly, BAYWATCH emerged as a box office bomb this past weekend, so "fans" never showed up to see it, smelling a dog with flees.  Lastly, critics are fans of movies too, arguably more so than lay filmgoers.  We see literally everything that casual viewers don't.  Contrary to popular belief, we all want to enjoy ourselves at the movies and wish for everything we see to be good.   

BAYWATCH is not good.  It's miserably unwatchable.   

There's an eyebrow raising lesson to be learned here, Mr. Johnson:  never overestimate the appeal of your unappealing movie to a wide audience. 

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