Turning cheesy TV shows from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s into big budget movies has, by and large, been a lucrative business for Hollywood over the years. Films like 21 JUMP STREET and its sequel, 22 JUMP STREET are often cited as the epitomes of success in this genre but even films that were widely panned by the critics (think THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES) did fairly well at the box office. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Hollywood suits have turned their attention to that juggernaut of ’90s syndicated television, BAYWATCH. For 11 seasons (not counting the various spinoffs and specials), young, horny guys around the world tuned in to watch the hairy-chested Mitch Buchannon (David Hasselhoff) and his fellow LA County Lifeguards watch over their stretch of beach at Santa Monica, California, saving both swimmers and surfers from currents, sharks and jellyfish and, quite often, the world from the nefarious evildoers that seemed to arrive there each week. Okay, let’s be honest. Very few people watched the show because of The Hoff. They watched it because of the procession of female lifeguards who worked with Mitch over the years including, most notably, C.J. Parker (Pamela Anderson), whose ample busom bounced in slow motion as she ran up and down the beach at the start of each episode. Although the show was unabashedly light porn, the stories often covered contemporary issues, such as environmentalism and the challenges of being a single parent, which was the case with Mitch, whose ex-wife was out of the picture. (Gayle Buchannon (Wendie Malick) did show up every few years though, usually to chastise Mitch for caring more about his job than her.)
With the film adaptation of BAYWATCH, what made the TV show “good” (and that’s a relative term) seems to be have been thrown out to sea, leaving us with a sunbaked mess. Scratch that. It’s not even sunbaked because the beach has, for some reason, been moved to the fictional Emerald Bay in Miami where the sun can barely poke through the clouds. (The film was actually shot on the Atlantic coast near Savanna, Georgia.) Moreover, instead of female eye candy to ogle over, the focus of attention in this film is clearly on its two stars, Dwayne Johnson (Mitch) and Zac Efron (Matt Brody, a role originated on TV by David Charvet). Granted, the two actors are extremely ripped – especially Efron, who looks to be 100% muscle and 0% fat here – and it’s admirable that in 2017 we can objectify men instead of women, but that’s not what this franchise is all about. To make matters more ridiculous, the film’s four actresses – Alexandra Daddario (Summer Quinn), swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach (C.J.), Ilfenesh Hadera (Stephanie Holden) and Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra (Victoria Leeds) – do get to show off their cleavage in their skin-tight outfits but in a tawdry, frat-boy, way. In one scene early on, Summer rides Matt for staring at her boobs. Meanwhile, a new character, Ronnie (Jon Bass), is reduced to a bumbling heap of saliva each time he encounters C.J. In a wink to the TV show, this C.J. also gets to run in slow motion.
As for the story, don’t even try to make sense of it. It’s the start of the summer season and Baywatch is holding open tryouts. (Shouldn’t this have been done in the spring?) Pretty boy Matt shows up with the expectation that one of the three available spots is his. The two-time Olympic gold medal winner is somewhat of an enfant terrible for his antics in the pool in Rio (think Ryan Lochte) and he needs to do some community service to restore his reputation. Mitch, though, doesn’t let anyone get a free pass on his beach and he puts Matt through a grueling alpha male, one-on-one competition, as if that will prove that Matt can be a good lifeguard. However, this really is the only good part of the film as Mitch berates Matt throughout the process, calling him every boyband name and relevant contemporary cultural reference there is.
With the lifeguard trainees in place, the second part of the story starts to unfold. Packets of drugs are being washed up on shore along with the dead body of a local politician. Mitch, who has trouble reconciling that he’s only a lifeguard and not a police detective, is determined to solve this case and his eyes are pointing toward the ruthless businesswoman, Victoria, who owns a nearby private members’ beach club. Victoria, though, who has the body of a Bond girl and the swagger of a Bond villain, is not about to let a bunch of buff lifeguards ruin her plans for beachfront domination that for some unexplained reason is tied to drugs. Throw in some more frat-boy humour, including one scene involving a dead man’s penis, a couple of bikini-clad, nubile beachgoers and a few explosions, and there you have it.
BAYWATCH was supposed to open here today (May 30) to take advantage of the Dragon Boat holiday but it was quietly moved up a week to compete against the latest PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film rather than WONDER WOMAN, which opens here on Thursday. This was probably a wise choice as POTC has been widely panned by critics and the advance word on WW has been optimistic. Even so, BAYWATCH is awful. But so was THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and that film took in over $100 million at the box office.
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