Seth Gordon has a few middling comedy hits on his CV (Identity Thief, Horrible Bosses), but he started out with the outstanding documentary The King of Kong – which is referenced here in a t-shirt worn by the flabby nerdy tagalong tech guy character (Jon Bass) … I thought it best to mention up front that Gordon has actual talent, because this lazy, pointless bigscreening of the ‘90s hit TV show is on a par with Penelope Spheeris’s The Beverly Hillbillies or Bill Fishman’s Car 54, Where Are You? in the has-it-really-come-to-this? stakes. Given a title which scores a high recognition factor, the inevitability of a Hasselhoff cameo and a cast of attractive, mostly likeable people, chances are you could heave a brick through the window of any coffee shop in Malibu and find someone capable of making a better fist of this project than this gang have.
In name and shame time, note that it’s a screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (Freddy vs Jason, the Friday the 13th reboot, not to mention the eagerly-awaited Untitled Bermuda Triangle) from a story by the teams of Jack Sherick & David Ronn (Norbit, I Spy, The Smurfs) and Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant (The Pacifier, Herbie Fully Loaded, A Night at the Museum, Reno 911), from the series created by Michael Berk & Douglas Schwartz and Gregory J. Bonnan. All these people got paid more to come up with this than lifeguards get in a career of saving people from drowning – and they probably toiled long and hard into the night to layer in a redemptive character arc for disgraced Olympic Gold medallist Matt Brody (Zac Efron) before upping the quota of dick jokes to the point where this mainstream summer comedy spends more time on penises than the average gay porn movie. A mercilessly protracted sequence involves Ronnie (Bass) getting his dick trapped after receiving the heimlich manoeuvre from the blonde he’s crushing on and falling over so his erection penetrates a slatted beach-bed. Later on, formaldehyde-and-body-fat drips from a corpse to give Efron a facial while he’s hiding in a morgue drawer, which is gross but not terribly amusing.
In one of the whacky outtakes under the end credits – seldom a signifier of quality – Dwayne Johnson and David Hasselhoff sit on a beach talking about who’s going to be in the sequel, but the real bone of contention is Hasselhoff pertinently asking Johnson how the newer star can take on his signature role of Mitch Buchannon,which the Hoff has owned for nearly thirty years. Short answer – he can’t and he doesn’t even try: for better or worse, this Mitch is just the Rock in a swimsuit, grinning and glad-handing, diving into (terrible) CGI flames to save folks, bombarding co-star Efron with demeaning boy band jokes, and coasting on audience goodwill. Not since Doom has he been so wasted in a film – even minimal support from a script with real jokes and a plot would have given him a chance to turn things round the way his presence perked up seeming dead-loss ventures like Journey 2 The Mysterious Island, The Scorpion King or the middle Fast and Furious entries. Here, he gets zilch.
The probable template for this is the 21 Jump Street film and its sequel, which similarly spoof not-exactly-serious original material – though the same sort of snark has sunk the likes of The Green Hornet and CHIPS. Generations ago, the likes of Dragnet and The Brady Bunch Movie snuck past preconceptions and delivered wit, charm, nostalgia and post-modernist glee by embracing yet puncturing the conventions of the original properties – this just pokes fun at jiggling in slow motion while indulging in it and repeatedly has folks complain that lifeguards can’t act like cops even as Mitch and his team set out to bring down a drug-dealing property developer – Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra as Indian Dragon Lady – who (horror of horrors) wants to turn this beloved stretch of the coast into a private beach. In a sole subtle touch, her antipathy to the Baywatch ethos is signalled by the fact that she can’t even bear to set her high-heeled shoes down on the beach. Alexandra Daddario (carried over from the Johnson joint San Andreas), Kelly Rohrbach and Ilfanesh Hadera fill out swimsuits, though in the cause of balance the camera spends at least as much time on Efron’s improbable abs.
It’s two merciless hours long, with thin stretches between workable jokes – the few action scenes are heavy on the greenscreen work and look unacceptably fakey (that old TV show may have been ridiculous, but included proper stunts). Pamela Anderson gets a cameo too, but the filmmakers don’t give her any lines to speak. If there really is a sequel, how about adapting the second season of spinoff Baywatch Nights where Mitch battled vampires, Vikings, aliens and surfing mummies?