As Hollywood continues to remake, reboot, repeat, reinvent and reimagine its past in a neverending quest for cash, every now and then it dips into the TV archives in the hope of coming up with a hit new franchise, or a least a one-off moneyspinner. Sometimes the results are great (The Brady Bunch Movie, 21 Jump Street, Dragnet, The Addams Family, Starsky and Hutch, The Fugitive, The Naked Gun, South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, The Muppet Movie) and sometimes the results are terrible (CHiPS, Bewitched, Absolutely Fabulous, Sex And The City, The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Sgt Bilko, My Favorite Martian, Yogi Bear) and sometimes the results are ... Baywatch.
It's a great idea – take a beloved but cheesey, cliched and very dated show from the 1990s, add lots of sexy stars (two of them among the biggest box office draws in the world today) and have some sun-soaked fun. On paper it should work, and it mostly does, but the Baywatch movie should have been so much better than it actually is.
Anyone who has ever seen the sitcom Friends will know that the original Baywatch TV series (aka Babewatch) was essential viewing for Joey and Chandler. And those of us who also enjoyed our weekly dose of beautiful, bouncing, beach-bound, bikini-clad and barely-dressed bodies knew that the first rule of watching Baywatch was to never, ever take it seriously. Starring David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson, Alexandra Paul, Yasmine Bleeth and Nicole Eggert, the show was sort of about a bunch of lifeguards patrolling a beach somewhere in California. Their job was supposed to simply be "stop people drowning", but as the series went on, the plots became ludicrous and often saw the boys and girls playing detective and tracking down hit-and-run drivers, kidnappers, drug runners, serial killers, nuclear bombs ... and, of course, earthquakes. You name it, there was probably a Baywatch episode about it. Absurd nonsense, and a perfect example of the disposable, mindless entertainment that used to make up 95% of the TV output, but it was certainly a lot of fun to watch – mainly for the ogle factor.
Now we have a big-screen version of Baywatch, and while in many ways it sticks quite closely to the clean-cut TV show that spawned it, it's also quite a different beast. Dwayne Johnson stars as Mitch Buchannon (the same character that was played by the Hoff on TV), the cheerful, cheeky, tough and very popular head lifeguard on a Los Angeles beach who isn't happy when his boss hires Matt Brody (Zac Efron), an arrogant but disgraced Olympic champion who thinks he has all the answers. While these two are butting heads, the team – which also includes lifeguards CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), along with new recruits Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) – get involved with a case of illicit drugs being found on the beach and local business owner and socialite Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) who appears to be up to no good.
Baywatch's biggest asset (in more ways than one) is Johnson. He's one of the most charming, easy going and charismatic actors working today, and he brings all that and more to the role of Mitch. He's having enormous fun flexing his pecs and making the most of the material – his constant razzing of Efron's character delivers many of the film's laughs. Efron too is fine, proving once again that he is more than capable at doing comedy. And the rest of the cast acquit themselves well, although the women characters feel a little underwritten, and they are not really given an awful lot to do apart from look great wearing almost nothing. (Among the girls, the MVP is far and away former swimsuit model Rohrbach as CJ Parker, the role made famous by Pammy Anderson. This is her biggest film to date, and she is outstanding – beautiful face, stunning figure and perfect comic timing.)
Unlike the TV series, though, the Baywatch movie has gone all-out to be an adults-only, hard-R raunch-fest, with dialogue that will curl your grandmother's toes. And it really doesn't always work. The beauty of the TV show was that even with all the beautiful flesh on show, it was squeaky clean and holier-than-thou. And it goes for the gross-out laughs a la American pie, with a couple of painful penis-in-peril sight gags that outstay their welcome. What does work (but all-too infrequently) are the little digs at what we always laughed about when watching Baywatch on TV – lifeguards thinking they are cops and trying to solve crimes. There are laughs to be had, sure, but for a comedy they are too few and far between. It does poke fun at itself, but nowhere near enough to keep up the laugh rate.
Still, Baywatch is worth seeing if only for a good perv at all the beautiful boobs, bums and abs – and no matter which way you lean, there is something here for everyone to enjoy: all the men (well, Johnson and Efron, anyway) are handsome and chiselled, and the women are nothing less than gorgeous with figures to die for. But what Baywatch really needs is more of the silly, fun beach action and less of the undercover Scooby Doo stuff.