Baywatch is a running gag in slow motion, a thong-in-cheek TV retread swapping wholesome jiggles for dirty giggles. There are places for such humor but beaches don't have gutters.
What Baywatch has in its favor is Dwayne Johnson fireman-carrying a dead weight comedy to safety. Johnson handles comedy as effortlessly as any prop weapon, evidenced by his recent SNL hosting gig, Moana and upstaging Kevin Hart in Central Intelligence.
Johnson steps into David Hasselhoff's form fitting swim trunks as Mitch Buchannon, bronzed god of Emerald Bay's lifeguard/crime fighting crew of physical specimens. Mitch is a legend, posting more saves than Mariano Rivera. Sand castles are built in his image. Dolphins dance at his rescues.
Besides the obvious physique, Johnson brings the role what Hasselhoff couldn't, a humility behind the preen making even crudeness cuddlier. Imagining Johnson and genetically gifted co-stars in swimsuits is all it took to pitch Baywatch. Director Seth Gordon and six writers didn't come up with much beyond that.
Mitch hits on what Baywatch misses while informing disgraced Olympic gold medalist Matt Brody (Zac Efron) that lifeguards do more than warn against sunburn. Mitch lists absurd cases like diamonds smuggled in surfboards that Hasselhoff solved. "Sounds like an entertaining but far-fetched TV show," Matt says. Precisely.
Here, we're stuck with a generic drug smuggling/shady development scheme and a mastermind (Priyanka Chopra) admitting she's "not a Bond villain yet" when a Bond villain is exactly what a Baywatch send-up deserves. The crime angle is merely window dressing, allowing posh gala breaks from those wet swimsuits and setting up a fireworks barge finale. It also leads to Mitch and Matt's search for clues in a morgue and an unprintable defiance of rigor mortis.
Although having little to do, Mitch's team does it attractively as yet another movie "family" bonded by danger. Efron's spoof of Ryan Lochte is all abs, no brain and ripe for humbling. His attraction to sensible Summer (Alexandra Daddario) is understandable. Kelly Rohrbach is a sunny substitute for Pam Anderson's bombshell C.J. while Ilfenesh Hadera brings round-out diversity.
The irritant is Jon Bass's Ronnie, a lump inexplicably hired by Mitch over dozens of applicants because he "leaves everything on the beach" during tryouts, apparently not bothering to pick it up. The role calls for hairy nipples, feigning junk stuck in a beach chair and doing a silly dance to distract bad guys. Ronnie has no business being here, or jokes making his presence worthwhile.
On the TV reinvention scale, Baywatch lands closer to CHIPS than 21 (or even 22) Jump Street. Johnson totes it mightily through rote action and obligatory cameos all the way to the end credit bloopers, a signature of countless lazy comedies. Next time, Rock, think diamonds in the surfboards.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.