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Are Dwayne Johnson & Co. Baywatch-able?

May 25, 2017

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True story: David Hasselhoff once threatened to kick my a–. It was 1993, and I was on Baywatch‘s L.A. set to write an Entertainment Weekly cover story. As he posed for the cover shoot with comely blond co-stars Pamela Anderson and Nicole Eggert, the Hoff suddenly started hassling me. He refused to take off his windbreaker, even though his female cohorts had stripped down to their trademark red bathing suits. I patiently tried to explain to him that since his was a show about lifeguards working on a beach, readers would expect to see him shirtless. “This better not be a T&A story!” he bellowed at me. “If it is, I’ll kick your a–!”

You see, Hasselhoff mistakenly believed people watched Baywatch for the character development and the story lines, not the well-developed chests and the bikini tanlines. “I love family entertainment—stuff that makes you cry,” he told me. “I’m from the Michael Landon school.” He showed me a clip of his character saving a child from drowning. “Now, that’s not T&A,” he told me. “That’s real.” (Actually, it was about as real as Pamela Anderson’s breasts, but that’s another story.)

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When I heard several years ago that Baywatch was being turned into an R-rated big-screen comedy, my hopes were high that it would deliver what fans really want: namely, T and A and not a lot of boring scenes of lifeguards rescuing people. My expectations were raised even further in 2011 when one of my favorite writers, Peter Tolan, revealed on my pal and future Landline co-star/director Matthew Aaron‘s podcast that he had just finished a script for the film, which was set to star SNL‘s reliably hilarious Bill Hader. Tolan seemed like the perfect scribe for this project: On his TV series with Denis Leary, The Job and Rescue Me, he had managed to blend raw, off-color humor with unsentimental depictions of life-and-death professions.

Cut to 2017, and Tolan isn’t among the six—count ’em!—writers credited for the Baywatch movie, nor is Hader anywhere to be seen on screen. Instead, the Artist Formerly Known as the Rock, Dwayne Johnson, stars alongside High School Musical grad Zac Efron, and the movie is a disappointing mish-mash of dirty (but not funny) gags and way too many boring scenes of lifeguards saving people.

The names haven’t been changed from the TV series: Johnson plays Mitch Buchannon, Hasselhoff’s old role, though the Hoff confusingly shows up as a mentor also named Mitch; Efron replaces David Charvet—who also couldn’t act—as brash Matt Brody; and the female triumverate of C.J. (Anderson), Summer (Nicole Eggert) and Stephanie (Alexandra Paul) have been made slightly more diverse with the casting of bland blond Kelly Rohrbach, underrated brunette Alexandra Daddario (who played Johnson’s daughter in San Andreas) and half-Ethiopian Ilfenesh Hadera.

I’d give the film points for broadening its cast with Quantico‘s Priyanka Chopra as the drug-dealing villain and The Get Down‘s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as a lifeguard-hating cop, but it feels like a self-conscious attempt to market the movie, which was largely financed with Chinese money, to an international audience. Plus, their performances are weak, as is the work of great stand-up/terrible actor Hannibal Buress as a techie.

 

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Despite the R rating, there are no fully exposed Ts or As, except for the flabby ass of the untalented Jon Bass, who’s ridiculously cast as a lifeguard recruit, despite his potato-like physique. Even more absurdly, he ends up scoring with C.J. I’m guessing he’s supposed to fulfill the fantasies of geeks like me who pay to see this movie. Oh, but there is a D in the movie. Horrible director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) thinks the sight of a penis and testicles is inherently hilarious, so he sets one scene in a morgue where Efron’s Matt is tricked into examining a stiff’s taint. In one of many vaguely homophobic moments, Mitch takes pictures of Matt touching the corpse’s franks and beans, and we’re treated to a photo montage over the closing credits, as the film steals a bad idea from both The Hangover and Bad Santa 2.

Baywatch doesn’t know what it wants to be — an Arnold Schwarzenegger-style action flick or a Zach Galifianakis-esque comedy. To wit(lessness), Johnson beats up a bad guy in a little girl’s bedroom, then buries his head in a diaper pail and throws him into a pool, finishing off the scene with an awful pun: “Bathtime, shithead!”

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Just before the movie reaches the end of its punishingly long running time, Anderson shows up for a throwaway cameo — and she doesn’t even have any lines. Then we’re treated to the blooper reel, which packs more laughs in two minutes (especially from improv vet Rob Huebel as the crew’s testy boss) than the rest of this dud does in two hours. Like its jiggly heroines, this film seems to run in slow motion.

Postscript: I did write a T and A story, and the Hoff never kicked my ass. But maybe he’s gotten his revenge: Sitting through the Baywatch movie left me feeling brutalized.

 

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