Director: Seth Gordon
Screenplay: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, David Hasselhoff
Runtime: 116 Minutes
The sad state of Hollywood seeing something such as CHiPs as a bankable piece of brand recognition is one thing, but the continuous dredging up of old properties and television shows of even the most remote nostalgic value has long run its course. Unless a fresh approach is taken in the process of adaptation it’s unlikely to find anything of value to differentiate itself from any other rehash.
Baywatch seems to be aping the self-referential commentary of 21/22 Jump Street by playing up the silliness factor inherent to the original series and its place within popular culture. But the problem here is that – given the space to really think about its prospects – the original series is a shallow empty nothing of a show that has only survived due to its heavily syndicated scheduling and its place within the minds of Gen X men and women who grew up in households where it was the only accessible form of sexual gratification.
There is very little to be said on a commentary level then that would allow it to mine the depths that made the Jump Street series in part such a rousing success. Instead, this pumped-up and steroidal modern rendition of the original format jogs in place with a generic comedy screenplay, a tired structure that dwells on improvised comedy, cheap sets and locations and an all guns blazing climax to trick the audience into believing that the story held any real stakes. The perverse way that it shoots and frames it's barely covered performers is grotesque to look at, but then again so did the television series. It's mostly fair game when the camera gazes over masculine six-packs, but the obsession with bodily fluids and genitals as the core source of comedy is wearisome.
Yet despite all this, the movie isn’t quite terrible, but it isn’t much good either. Mainly because the machismo chemistry between both Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron as the earnest teacher/delinquent student duo is possibly the film’s most enjoyable element. Johnson is a well-maintained charisma machine at this point and a heavily bankable and likeable screen presence and the energy he shares with Efron makes them watchable even if their actual characters and the plot lack discipline. The rest of the cast is fine if unremarkable, the only two of note being Kelly Rohrbach as a surprisingly fun version of C. J. Parker, and Jon Bass as the screaming irritant that is Ronnie.
It's flatly directed, lowest rung mainstream comedy at its loudest and most strenuous, but every now and then a single line delivery or reaction shot may garner a giggle or two, so that come the closing moments you might reflect on it not being all that gruelling an experience. It’s bright, colourful design and pop-centric summer soundtrack leave it mostly inoffensive but very unrewarding.