It’s official: we’ve now entered the critical, Code Red phase of Hollywood’s remake epidemic. What seemed to start off as a winking and benign recycling of the pop culture past has mutated into something far more insidious. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Baywatch — the rare movie that even the Teflon-coated, thousand-watt charisma of Dwayne Johnson can’t save. It’s possible that this sloppy, scattershot nod to ’90s jiggle TV was inevitable. After all, we’d already cycled through such wafer-thin small-screen flotsam as Charlie’s Angels, The A-Team, and CHiPs. Freakin’ CHiPs?! But apparently the barrel of disposable retro television properties is as bottomless as Nietzsche’s abyss.
Directed by Horrible Bosses’ Seth Gordon, Baywatch isn’t the most flagrant offender in our current TV-to-movie scourge, but it’s not good. Worse, it’s not very funny. Johnson stars as Mitch Buchannon, the gung ho, post-Hasselhoffian leader of an elite SoCal squad of impossibly nubile lifeguards who take their jobs as seriously as J. Edgar Hoover’s G-men. (That’s pretty much the film’s main joke.) In addition to Mitch, the fist-bumping men and women in red swimwear include Ilfenesh Hadera’s Stephanie, Kelly Rohrbach’s CJ, and a trio of trainees: Alexandra Daddario’s Summer (all sunbeams and positivity), Jon Bass (in the horny, fatty-falls-down Josh Gad role), and Zac Efron as Matt Brody — a dim and disgraced former Olympic swimmer whom Mitch calls “Bieber” and “Malibu Ken.” Obvious and easy jabs, to be sure, but the irrepressible Johnson has a way of selling them. As Mitch teaches his new recruits what being a member of the Baywatch team means, a nefarious and equally hot local businesswoman (Quantico’s Priyanka Chopra) schemes to turn the waterfront into a gateway for her drug-smuggling ring. Can Mitch and his cleavage-spilling posse stop her before it’s too late — even in slo-mo? Can Brody learn to be a team player and melt Summer’s heart? Honestly, I’ve seen more narratively ambitious Mad Libs.
Back in 1995, The Brady Bunch Movie showed that there was a clever, postmodern way to turn our mothballed childhood memories into irreverent satire. But with the exception of the first 21 Jump Street, Hollywood seems to be beyond the point of putting any effort into these things. Aside from some mild laughs that come from the alpha-dog friction between Johnson and Efron, Damian Shannon and Mark Swift’s script is a lazy barrage of sad-trombone product-placement gags and red-band boobs-and-boners jokes. Perhaps even more depressing is the realization that this current retread plague won’t be ending anytime soon. Leaving the theater, I saw in my newsfeed that The CW had just greenlit a reboot of Dynasty. God help us all. C