Thursday, 29 June 2017

Not Swimming but Drowning

Devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchannon butts heads with a brash new recruit, as they uncover a criminal plot that threatens the future of the day. 

Andy Warhol got it wrong. It’s not that everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes; it's that all moderately successful, mediocre television shows are destined to be reborn as feature films. Baywatch manages to repackage every aspect of the series, except the reason it was popular in the first place. Indeed, just as nobody ever bought a Pirelli calendar simply to find out the date, the world didn’t tune into Baywatch for over a decade purely for the lifeguarding instruction. Let’s face it: it was all about the fantasy American lifestyle of sun, sea and semi-naked flesh jiggling along beaches in slow-mo. Apart from that, and those little red floaty things they carried around, can anyone honestly remember anything else about Baywatch?

That movie could have been a golden opportunity. Previous films based on retro TV shows have taught us: the only way to repackage such brand-name is with heavy measures of irony and self-satire. Of course, that is what you would from a movie based on a TV series that became famous for slow-motion shots of star Pamela Anderson jiggling down a beach in her bikini. Baywatch as a series, now looks jaw-droppingly goofy and harmless - actually, it did then too - and the movie would have been smart to satirize the show’s innocuous underworld drama and cheesy male gaze, playing up the dated absurdity of it all. But no. The film’s director, Seth Gordon and its screenwriters, Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, have shaped Baywatch onto the theme of the moment: a bunch of good-looking lifeguards, devoted to keeping their beach a safe cool magical place.

Dwayne Johnson makes a good David Hasselhoff stand-in, with his winning mix of comic charm, calm authority and absurdly pumped physique as always.  Plus, his chemistry with Efron is likeable. In fact, Johnson and Efron possess impressive muscles, but the performers have never done as much heavy lifting as they do here. And to their credit, they succeed to some degree. Johnson employs his big smile, effortless charm and surprising comic gifts to make the film watchable. And Efron, who has come to rely on his obnoxious frat-boy persona takes off his shirt … a lot.

Now onto the women. “Babe” lifeguards are smart, centred and self-aware. They are 21st-century women who aren’t about to turn into pin-up fodder for losers. They wear their butt-hugging red bathing suits with dignity and pride, which makes this a highly sexually responsible Baywatch. But while the female form is on ample display here - courtesy of not only the comic Rohrbach, but also Alexandra Daddario (who starred along Dwayne Johnson in San Andreas) and Ilfenesh Hadera as CJ’s female colleagues at Emerald Bay - Johnson’s massive physique and Efron’s abs receive equally generous exposure.

Similarly, the film directed by Seth Gordon, shows off its big budget with large-scale action sequences. The causal throwaway gags are actually far funnier, such as Mitch addressing Matt with a series of nicknames including “Malibu Ken” and, most amusingly, “High School Musical”. Finally, and naturally, there are brief appearances by original stars Hasselhoff (who seems to be making ironic cameos his late-career specialty) and Anderson, but those, too, are underwhelming. Anderson’s is so momentary, that you wonder why it was even included.

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