Opening this weekend:
Baywatch—If memory serves, I had never seen so much as one episode of the TV series Baywatch, which ran for one season on NBC in 1989 and 11 much more successful seasons, all over the world, in syndication thereafter, with various changes of setting and spin-offs. So I recorded and watched a couple of sample episodes from one of the retro cable channels to prepare myself for this movie adaptation.
Man, what an insipid show. The new movie version is, make no mistake, about as dumb and crass as American comedies get, but compared to its source it seems Pulitzer-worthy.
For those who, like me, had managed to remain unfamiliar: Baywatch revolves around a group of lifeguards who keep an eye on the beaches near Malibu Pier. Over the course of more than 200 episodes, the lifeguards got caught up in all manner of adventures which extended well beyond the traditional duties of rescuing swimmers in distress and blowing their whistles at roughhousing kids.
No, the Baywatch gang was routinely involved in disasters, criminal investigations and international intrigues, and were instrumental in cracking the cases. The real meat of the series, however, seems to have been lengthy montages of the pneumatic cast running the beaches, or riding jet skis in formation.
In the movie (shot in Florida despite the L.A. setting), Dwayne Johnson takes over the role of top dog Baywatcher Mitch Buchannon from David Hasselhoff. Zac Efron, sporting a startlingly mesomorphic torso, takes over for David Charvet as Matt Brody, here a scandal-plagued Olympic champ turned lifeguard trainee, and Kelly Rohrbach steps into Pamela Anderson's red one-piece as the slow-motion blonde C. J. There are a variety of supporting players, like Ilfenesh Hadera and Alexandra Daddario, who look great in bathing suits, and, as a surrogate for the rest of us, Jon Bass as Ronnie, a tech whiz and aspiring lifeguard of more ordinary physique.
It's rated R, thus allowing director Seth Gordon and the writers, of which seven are credited, to deploy raunchy set-piece gags in the Hangover style. Other than that, about all they can do is make poor Efron keep repeating the same joke about how hey, this seems like a job for the police, not lifeguards, even though it isn't exactly a riot the first time.
A drug-smuggling club owner, who wants to privatize the beach, is played by the stunning Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, but she and her henchman fail to come to life as either serious or comic villains. The movie works, to the extent it does, thanks to the charm of the leads. Johnson comes across the best, shrewdly playing Mitch with a gee-whiz earnestness that's Hoff-worthy.
So this Baywatch is sort of cute, silly and sometimes inept as it is. But it should be noted that this type of lowbrow spoof can be done much better, and indeed has been: Son of the Beach, a Baywatch send-up created by and starring Timothy Stack, ran on FX for two seasons, from 2000 to 2002. If the old Baywatch makes the new Baywatch look like Arthur Miller, the new Baywatch makes Son of the Beach look like Rabelais or Chaucer. Its jokes were crude and often tasteless, but they were also remarkably dense and complex. Almost every line was a double-entendre of some sort, and they interconnected in ways that can fairly be called brilliant. Any half-hour of that show had more, and wittier, laughs than all of Baywatch.