PLOT A lifeguard and his team must stop a cunning drug smuggler.
CAST Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario
RATED R (crude sexual humor and language)
BOTTOM LINE A raunchy but good-natured adaptation of the preposterous 1990s television show.
The latest vintage television show to become a contemporary Hollywood comedy is “Baywatch,” the 1990s-era hit that starred David Hasselhoff as a Los Angeles lifeguard who doubles as crime fighter and action hero. Cue the self-referential in-jokes, nostalgic cameos and overall attitude of ironic mockery, right? Yes, but here’s the surprise: At least half the time, this is a fairly sincere adaptation with its own brand of humor and charm.
Dwayne Johnson takes the Hasselhoff role as Mitch Buchannon, a legendary figure who has saved the life of seemingly every citizen in the fictional Emerald Bay. When the film begins, it’s lifeguard tryout time, and newcomer Matt Brody (Zac Efron) thinks his two Olympic medals should make him a shoo-in. As Mitch and his crew discover a drug ring run by local businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), Brody must learn to put aside his ego.
It’s no shocker that Johnson and Efron, both comedy veterans at this point, would work so well together as the insufferable voice of experience and the cocky kid.
What is surprising is that “Baywatch” takes its characters just seriously enough to make us care about them. Brody, with his foster-kid upbringing and drinking problem, could almost be the hero of a straightforward teen drama. There’s also an endearing subplot involving Ronnie (Jon Bass), a pudgy tech geek who is determined to join Mitch’s well-sculpted team.
That’s not to say “Baywatch” isn’t full of private-part humor, foul language and barf jokes. Not all the material works, but none of it feels mean-spirited or offensive.
As for the film’s treatment of women, that’s a more complicated subject. The series was famous for its gratuitous shots of bouncing female bodies, and there’s plenty of that here, thanks to Alexandra Daddario as lifeguard Summer Quinn and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach as C.J. Parker (the role that made Pamela Anderson a household name). These characters aren’t purely decorative, but their wet suits are definitely more fleshed out than their personalities.
Directed by Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses”) with a breezy touch, “Baywatch” may fall short of pure comedy gold. Still, like the original show, it’s entertaining and mostly good-natured fun.