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Review: Tanned, toned and dumb, ‘Baywatch’ washes out

No one is expecting Oscar-level material here, but ‘Baywatch’ can’t rescue itself from a puddle

Adam Graham Detroit News Film Critic

“Baywatch” was only ever about red swimsuits and slow motion shots of lifeguards running on the beach. Somehow that was enough to sustain 11 seasons of television. But it’s not enough to carry two hours on the big screen.

The rebooted, R-rated “Baywatch” wants to wink at the cheesy series while also delivering the very things that made it a worldwide hit in the 1990s — and for awhile, it works. Then the fun deflates like a beach ball with a hole in it, and viewers are stuck asking, “Well, it’s ‘Baywatch,’ what did you expect?’ ”

The simple expectation is a project that can poke fun at its source material, but use it as a base to deliver something fresh, like “21 Jumpstreet” with suntan lotion. The reality is a little more stale. “Baywatch” wants to be smart-dumb, but winds up being dumb-dumb, a great beach body with nothing inside its brain.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as Mitch Buchannon, the head lifeguard at Baywatch, who treats his post at the local beach as a cross between a sheriff, a community leader and an ambassador for his stretch of sand. He and his team — which includes Kelly Rohrbach as C.J. Parker and Ilfenesh Hadera as Stephanie Holden — are “the elite of the elite,” as Mitch explains, and does so with a straight face and courage in his conviction.

The crew holds tryouts for new members and attracts Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a washed-up, self-absorbed former Olympian turned national disgrace (think Ryan Lochte), as well as strong-willed surfer type Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and schlubby comic relief Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass). Greenbaum, who comes off like a grating, seventh rate Josh Gad, is seen failing miserably at the tasks required of him during his tryout, but makes the squad anyway. Elite of the elite!

Still, for awhile — say, the first 30 minutes or so — “Baywatch” strides along with confidence. The Rock and Efron have a playful chemistry, with Mitch chiding Matt for his teen magazine good looks (he calls him a long list of boy-band names) and the two going after each other for the size of their respective muscles. (Efron somehow looks more ripped than the Rock, no small feat of body engineering.)

And the movie has some fun acknowledging the legal authority (or lack thereof) of a team of lifeguards, who act like CSI agents on their stretch of the beach rather than hired hands who save kids from drowning.

Then an actual plot kicks in, one involving drugs on the beach, corruption among local politicians and shady business dealings, and it’s like sand getting kicked in your face. Director Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses”), working from a script credited to six contributors, winds up in a trap of making “Baywatch” about something more than “Baywatch.” You want to blow your whistle, strap one of those buoys to your body and rescue the movie as you see it drowning.

Another bummer: The surprise of the film’s cameos from original “Baywatch” cast members are undercut when their names are listed in the opening credits.

So what you’ve got is some basic R-rated humor, a few funnies, some tanned, toned bodies and a half-baked plot — nothing more, but maybe a little less. It’s “Baywatch.” What did you expect?

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Baywatch’

GRADE: C-

Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity

Running time: 119 minutes