Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has so much charisma it can be seen from space. It should be considered a national resource and channeled to power homes and solve world hunger. His charisma is a precious and powerful tool that has lifted middling comedies like “Central Intelligence” and revved up the “Fast and Furious” franchise. But with the sloppy, incoherent “Baywatch,” that unstoppable force meets its match. Shockingly, The Rock’s charisma just can’t save everything.
One would think that the combination of Johnson and the sweet, dumb himbo charms of Zac Efron could cause a cinematic nuclear reaction, or so it seemed throughout the production and marketing of the big-screen take on the iconic ’90s show. But what ends up on the screen, after months of anticipation, is just a mess. Poorly edited, terribly written and tonally all over the place, “Baywatch” squanders all of its potential for some corny, sexy throwback fun.
Johnson steps into the red swim trunks made famous by David Hasselhoff as Mitch, lifeguard extraordinaire — waterman, hero, leader, quite possibly Aquaman himself. He leads a bevy of bodacious babes (Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach and Ilfenesh Hadera) in patrolling the bay, protecting all beach-loving denizens from any danger that might come their way.
Efron is disgraced Olympic swimmer Matt Brody, a pretty Ryan Lochte-type bad boy, with the tragic blond highlights to prove it. Police Capt. Thorpe (Rob Huebel) assigns the Olympian to the lifeguard team as a PR stunt, a fulfillment of Brody’s community service hours after a mystery plea deal. The contentious partners learn to be a team through many ocean-based rescues, boy-band nicknames, gay panic and light-hearted corpse desecration.
This bombastic reboot, directed incompetently by Seth Gordon, is held together with nothing more than hopes, dreams and neoprene, and inevitably, all of those systems fail. The first act of the film is energetic and fun — lifeguard tryouts and light-hearted flirting, but then all hell breaks loose. Mitch becomes fixated on an influx of a new drug, “flaca,” on the beach, and is convinced it’s connected to rapacious entrepreneur and club owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra, sneering like a B-movie villain).
The guards’ unconventional investigation reaches way above and beyond your average lifeguard duties. This wild goose chase irritates the actual police force, since lifeguards aren’t exactly in the law enforcement business. They have a point.
Credited to no less than six writers (not including the original “Baywatch” show creators), this film has no voice, but even more crucially, it has not one lick of sense. It mixes raunchy comedy, action-adventure and drug thriller elements with seemingly touching moments within the same scene. But all elements of character development are mishandled or otherwise undermined in the script. The wonky scene transitions and slapdash editing rife with continuity and spatial errors don’t help matters.
“Baywatch” is fun when it’s poking fun at its origins, citing outlandish plots from the original show and calling attention to references and formulas. During the bonkers crazy climax, Brody utters, “That sounds complicated … and cheesy!” It’s supposed to make fun of the show’s formula but comes off like an indictment of the very thing in which he’s starring. “Baywatch” falls prey to that which it lampoons, becoming the thing that it wanted to parody. Complicated and cheesy just about nails it.