In retrospect, it was silly to think “Baywatch” might just be a beach beauty.
To be fair, though, the big-screen adaptation of the oddly enduring, eye candy-filled drama about the trials, tribulations and adventures of a group of muscular and shapely lifeguards in Los Angeles County, California, has some things going for it.
To start, there’s director Seth Gordon, who has helmed episodes of respected TV comedy series “Modern Family,” “The Office” and others, and was the man behind the camera for the enjoyable big-screen 2011 comedy “Horrible Bosses.”
And then there’s the fact that everything the movie’s star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, touches seems to turn to box-office gold.
Plus, Johnson’s second fiddle — onetime teen heartthrob Zac Efron — has proved to be an asset to a number of comedies.
But “Baywatch” has serious problems in terms of tone, and we’re not talking about skin tone. (With one purposeful exception, all the beach bodies in this movie look appropriately amazing.)
Gordon and the movie’s writers, Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, want it to be different things at different times. Show-skewering parody? Sure, sometimes. Sincere, admiring homage? Yep, off and on.
“Baywatch” thrashes wildly from zany to straight to absurdly dramatic. It will work for a few minutes as one thing, but then it will be something almost completely different a scene or two later, killing any momentum it had built.
And then there are the F-bombs. So. Many. F-bombs.
Say what you will about the show “Baywatch” — and there is much one could say — but it knew what it had to offer. Despite its constant parade of curvaceous babes, it managed to be sort of charmingly wholesome. That really could describe the movie, as well, if not for the language. Yes, there is some PG-13-level sexual content, but it’s as if the producers were hellbent on getting an R-rating with the way the characters speak, a choice that leads to little comic payoff and feels very much out of place.
Johnson (“The Fate of the Furious,” “Central Intelligence”) stars as Mitch Buchannon, borrowing the name of series star David Hasselhoff’s character. Mitch is the big man on the beach, literally and figuratively. Large and in charge, he’s a great at his job. Heck, one guy even builds a different likeness of Mitch out of sand every day because Mitch saved his drowning sister.
On his team already are C.J. Parker, a sweet blond beauty played by model-actress Kelly Rohrbach, and the very capable Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera of Showtime’s “Billions”). The team is added to after a qualifying event, with the winners being Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario, who shared time on screen with Johnson in the enjoyable action-adventure “San Andreas” in 2015) and the out-of-shape, tech-savvy Ronnie (John Bass of “Loving”), who has long admired C.J. and who gets tongue-tied around her. (It doesn’t help when, early in the proceedings, she has to help him out of a very embarrassing situation involving his man region.)
And then there’s Efron’s Matt Brody, a former Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer whose partying ways led to competitive failure, legal problems and, perhaps worst of all, great public embarrassment. (Let’s just say he’s known largely as “The Vomit Comet.”) Matt is given a gig with the lifeguards by the higher-ups as a public-relations move, which really irks Mitch, who believes there’s much more to the job than saving the occasional swimmer.
While Mitch will lead the gang to try to bring down a drug ring led by wealthy club owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra of “Quantico”), the real conflict that drives “Baywatch” is Mitch’s efforts to tame Brody, to mold him into the kind of team player he need to be succeed as a lifeguard.
“Baywatch” is not without its good points. For one, there’s the running joke where Brody is the only team member who thinks investigating a major criminal enterprise is a job for the police, not lifeguards. It’s a view shared by the movie’s generic police officer, Garner Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II of “The Get Down”), but his friction-filled professional relationship with Mitch never bears any real fruit.
Another runner that works is Mitch referring to the pretty-boy Matt by monikers such “One Direction,” “New Kids on the Block” and, best of all, “High School Musical.”
Of course, the movie does at least poke gentle fun at the show, Matt at one point describing the idea of lifeguards solving crimes as sounding like “a really entertaining but far-fetched TV show.”
Plus, there’s a fun exchange early on as Summer and Ronnie observe a breathtaking C.J. decked out in her Baywatch swimsuit.
“Why does it look like she’s running in slow motion?” Summer asks.
“You see it, too?” a transfixed Ronnie responds.
“It’s like she’s all wet but not too wet,” Summer adds.
More of that would have been nice.
Even though there are cameos anyone would expect, the movie seems so eager to please that it puts the names of Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, who played C.J. on the series, in the opening credits.
At about two hours long, “Baywatch” spends too much time having Mitch lecturing Matt and being extremely disappointed in him. It becomes tedious sooner than later.
Even more frustrating is Mitch being exactly as smart and capable or dumb and oblivious as a scene requires. The guy who is completely confused when he gets in trouble late in “Baywatch” for his extra-curricular investigative work is not the man we meet at the beginning.
That’s not the fault of Johnson, who, like Efron (“Neighbors,” “Dirty Grandpa”), does what he can to make “Baywatch” swim.
At the risk of sounding like a Debbie Drowner, though, this beach movie sinks.
In theaters: May 25.
Rated: R for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity.
Runtime: 1 hour, 59 minutes.
Stars (of four): 1.5.