Baywatch doesn’t know how to spoof. I’m serious. To spoof something you have to take its elements and wildly exaggerate them to comic effect. Better still, to satirize something, you have to also slyly comment on those elements, put them in a broader social context.
But the Baywatch movie does neither of those things. It doesn’t riff off the old series’ tropes or point out their absurdity—which honestly should be shooting fish in a barrel considering the fact that the show was about genetically blessed lifeguards who romanced each other and occasionally solved crimes—it merely repeats them. In fact, the whole enterprise seems to be weirdly stuck in time, with, of course, jiggling babes in thong bikinis running in slow motion, a “cool girl” falling for an uber nerd (Jon Bass), and Zac Efron doing his best impression of the kind of callow young men that Tom Cruise used to specialize in.
Let’s talk about that uber nerd, shall we? His name is Ronnie Greenbaum (I mean, could they not?) and he’s a rather unsavory addition to the film’s updated cast of characters. Despite the fact that he is pudgy, fearful, and unathletic, he makes the Baywatch squad, thanks to some kind of noblesse oblige from head lifeguard Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, taking over David Hasselhoff’s part). Ronnie has a crush on another lifeguard, the aforementioned cool girl CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), and even though he is so impossibly tongue-tied when he meets her he can’t even spit out a few garbled words, and the various humiliations heaped upon his character include getting his “junk” stuck in a beach chair as onlookers laugh and point, he manages to land her. I thought we had stopped doing this with Knocked Up.
Indeed, I spent a lot of the film thinking to myself: I thought we had stopped doing this—and that includes a casually tossed off gay panic joke involving Zac Efron’s Matt Brody and sexism so prevalent and unexamined that you need only watch the trailer to spot it. (A nadir comes when a grateful woman Mitch has just rescued from a fiery boat offers herself to him. “Maybe later,” he says, literally throwing her aside. Charming.)
The Rock is fine in that Rock way—cartoonishly heroic (or heroically cartoonish, if you prefer)—but he isn’t given much to do. The film’s idea of rapier wit is the series of nicknames he gives to Efron’s character: “N Sync” and “Backstreet Boy” and, yes, “High School Musical.” As for Efron’s Brody, an Olympic swimmer (modeled after Ryan Lochte?) who disgraced himself by partying too hard and letting down his teammates, he’s a garden-variety jerk with a douchey little haircut and an absurdly sculpted physique that nearly rivals his famous costar’s. (What were they mixing in the smoothies in those trailers?)
There’s a plot, of sorts, involving a beautiful, drug-smuggling hotelier (Priyanka Chopra) the crew is trying to bring down, and, by my count, precisely three water-based rescues. (For a film about lifeguards, they don't do much guarding of lives.) Most of the “jokes,” such as they were, have a mean-spirited edge and virtually none of them made me laugh. On the bright side, if some enterprising young filmmaker wants to spoof this movie, they'll have loads of material.