Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content and graphic nudity
Screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, story by Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, based on the series “Baywatch” created by Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz and Gregory J. Bonann
Directed by Seth Gordon
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and more
Grade: One and a half stars
I really, really wish they’d made the PG-13 version of “Baywatch.”
That version of the movie, the one I could see in segments in the R-rated version we actually got, was actually pretty entertaining. An update of the classic TV show that both winks at the inherent ridiculousness of the premise and celebrates the oddly endearing spirit behind it, the movie is the rare remake that both modernizes and respects its source material. Add Dwayne Johnson’s heaping helping of inherent charm, and the movie had the potential to be the kind of fluffy summer fun I would have recommended to everyone.
At least I would have, if not for all the penises.
The movie seems to have an intense fixation with that particular part of the male anatomy, featuring not one but two extremely long joke sequences based entirely around them. Their involvement was more than conceptual – in one, we actually saw the exposed penis on screen several times throughout the joke, and in the other it was clearly outlined. Both sequences were several minutes long – and felt like they went on forever – and made the constant mentions and implications elsewhere in the movie seem utterly discreet by comparison.
Now, I have a fairly high tolerance for dirty humor. The majority of double and even single entendres don’t make me blink, let alone blush, and never in my life have I been scandalized by a film. But when filmmakers send the entire forward momentum of a movie screeching to a halt for several minutes so they can lovingly and endlessly repeat small variations on the same joke, I’m going to get annoyed. There is no joke, anywhere, that gets funnier when you tell it over and over again without even pausing, and since these jokes weren’t that funny to start with the sequences ended up as some kind of humor black hole.
Which was tragic, because the rest of the movie had moments where it was almost clever. The TV series’ propensity towards slow-motion running was nicely skewered, more than once, and the string of insults Johnson’s character calls Efron’s character is fun. As an action fan, I also appreciated the creative re-application of fireworks for the purposes of increased mayhem.
Dwayne Johnson was a delight, as always, charming enough that the entire beach’s adoration of his character made perfect sense. Zac Efron was essentially himself, or at least the character he always plays, though this version was actually mildly likeable in certain key moments. Priyanka Chopra was excellent as Victoria Leeds, striding through every scene with such old-school villainous panache that I desperately need her to outwit Bond in the next movie. I also really liked Ilfenesh Hadera, though she wasn’t given nearly enough to do.
If the scriptwriters had actually focused on them, and the movie’s balance of silly and endearing, it could have been a really fun movie. Sadly, that’s not the version we got.