After a spoof-worthy opening title sequence, that features dolphins and Johnson’s impressive pecs, there’s not one fresh or inspired moment in “Baywatch.” Sure, there are cheap laughs related to Zac Efron reprising his airhead persona (see every comedy this guy’s made) and Johnson making fun of him. But instead of reaching for parody, this feature feels very much like the television series that inspired it. It even delves into an extended wince-inducing homophobic gag that is in poor taste. For shame, for shame–this kind of lame comedy went out of fashion many years ago, and we’re all better off because these films are no longer profitable.

Feeling dated and forced, Johnson, who made an appearance at our Atlanta screening, may have burned a lot of his capital on this weak entry. At the screening, Johnson said he’d been working on bringing the show to the big screen for 5 years. It’s just too bad more time wasn’t devoted to writing a clever take on television of that era. So much of the story seems made up as it was shot, with lines of dialogue appearing to be improvised by the two magnetic stars. The banter gets old fast, and because there is literally no story, there’s nothing else worth watching.
There’s so much potential in making a comedy based on one of the most notorious shows of the 1990s. Johnson plays Mitch, the leader of a team of lifeguards that protect the bay. He’s saved just about everyone he knows from drowning in the ocean. And that is really where the movie should have focused its narrative. Instead, the cliches never end as we get a by-the-numbers and unnecessary crime story straight from network TV land.

Wasted is a cast that deserves better. Comedian Hannibal Buress has a handful of unfunny scenes in which he just stands around merely to advance the plot. And the lovely Priyanka Chopra has the thankless task of playing one dimensional villainy shot so flatly that even her towering beauty is lessened. Sadly, Efron and Johnson wear out their welcome with 20 minutes or so of name-calling that is chuckle inducing, at best.  The plot-focused final third of the film makes the affable stars less relevant as the movie sinks into a bad TV crime story involving a real estate swindle. The whole affair is just dimwitted.
In these risk adverse times, Hollywood would rather trade on brands from the past instead of looking for inspiration in something original. This means we’ll see more retreads until audiences stop going to see them.  And the handful of big screen adaptations to come should avoid the “Chips” and “Baywatch” models, which are templates on how not to make a comedy.

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