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'Baywatch' Film Review: Bros before beaches

May 25, 2017Ben MK

Summer movie season is here, and nothing makes for a more fitting summer movie than a movie about, well, summer. That, in a nutshell, is what Baywatch — a film with no shortage of gratuitous closeups of butts, abs and pecs — is all about. Oh, and something about a glamorously evil real estate developer, played by Priyanka Chopra, who also deals in coldblooded murder and illicit drugs.

A comically-themed reboot of the 1990s TV series made famous by its slow-motion shots of bikini-clad women, Baywatch follows in the footsteps of movies like 21 Jump Street and CHIPS, casting Dwayne Johnson in the role of Mitch Buchannon, the larger-than-life head lifeguard who watches over the shores of Emerald Bay. A legend among beachgoers, as well as fellow lifeguards Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), Mitch has singlehandedly saved dozens of lives. But he's about to get his world turned upside down.

Enter Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced Olympic swimmer whose drunken antics have earned him the nickname "the vomit comet," not to mention a community service sentence to be spent being a pain in Mitch's ass. Long story short, Matt and Mitch aren't exactly on the same wavelength. But when drugs and dead bodies start washing up on the beach, the pair are forced to put aside their differences, as Matt and new trainees Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) are given a crash course in surf-and-sand crime-fighting.

Directed by Seth Gordon, Baywatch admittedly doesn't have a lot to live up to. After all, the original show may have ran for a surprisingly lengthy 11 seasons, but for the average moviegoer, the series' cultural legacy begins and ends with the words "red" and "swimsuit." That being said, the amount of creative freedom this film version benefits from proves to be both a boon and a curse, as screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift end up squandering the opportunity, delivering what is ultimately a cookie-cutter story that struggles to justify its 2-hour running time.

The other problem with Baywatch lies with its character development, which, for lack of a better description, belongs more in the shallow end of the kids' wading pool, rather than in the depths of the ocean. In other words, good luck coming away from the movie with any real insight into who these characters are, or why they do what they do. Only Efron and Bass are afforded any semblance of backstory to keep their performances afloat. And even then, it doesn't make up for the fact that you'll find better characterizations on most Saturday morning cartoons.

Of course, Baywatch is no Saturday morning cartoon. Being far too reliant on f-bombs and dick jokes recycled from other, funnier comedies as a strategy for eliciting laughs, it's as if the filmmakers figured that cranking up the movie's raunchiness quotient would suffice as a replacement for actual humor. Sadly, it does not, and in the end, not even the raucously enjoyable chemistry between Johnson and Efron, nor the obligatory cameos from David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, can save this otherwise over-tanned, over-sexed and ill-conceived adaptation.

Baywatch releases May 25th, 2017 from Paramount Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 56 Mins.

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