The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



The new rule seems to be that any big-screen adaptations of cheesy old TV shows must be done with an ironic, hard-R comedic twist. We've seen that approach applied in 21 Jump Street and its sequel, as well as the recent CHIPS. Now it's applied to Baywatch, a feature film based on the show that gave mankind the magic of David Hasselhoff running in slow motion. The idea could conceivably work, except that this misguided comedy has zero perspective on the low-grade titillation that made the series weirdly popular.

Dwayne Johnson stars as Mitch Buchanan, a preternaturally talented lifeguard. He oversees a committed group of fellow lifeguards: right-hand woman Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), the athletic Summer (Alexandra Daddario), resident nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass), and buxom blonde CJ (Kelly Rohrbach). Into this group comes Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a cocky two-time Olympic gold medalist who has experienced a fall from grace. Mitch and Matt don't get along, although they learn to work together as they uncover a massive drug operation overseen by a local business owner, Victoria Leeds (played by Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra).

On television, Baywatch was nothing more than an excuse to have a bunch of pretty people running around in swimsuits while getting entangled in various absurd little dramas. It was dumb, but in a way that was oddly satisfying if you wanted something that offered puerile stimulation and required no actual mental engagement. Baywatch the movie replicates this to a degree. Efron and Johnson show their impressive six-pack abs continually, while their female co-stars display so much cleavage that their breasts ought to get on-screen credit.

If the film's goal was only to be a cinematic edition of the show, that would be fine. It wants to be a comedy, though. Rather than humorously commenting on the program's silly plots, Baywatch merely devises one of its own. Nothing about the crime story here is even remotely engaging. Worse, it relies on an age-old cliche that ought to be apparent to anyone paying even a bit of attention.

There is a wealth of material here for a comedy. Even if it didn't poke fun at the show's simple-minded plotting, Baywatch could have at least mined humor from things like the infamous “jiggle factor.” This was a program in which sexual fantasy was peddled via the guise of harmless family entertainment. Sure, there were half-naked men and women running around, but they were lifeguards, so there was a reason for it! That was the show's basic ethic – a totally BS ethic, but an ethic nonetheless.

Instead of mocking that, Baywatch serves up an endless string of pointlessly raunchy and unfunny gags, frequently related to male genitalia. In the first ten minutes, Ronnie gets his privates stuck between the slats of a beach chair after becoming erect at the sight of CJ. The humor never rises above that level. The screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (Freddy vs. Jason) seems to think the mere mention of penises, testicles, or “taints” is automatically hilarious. A shocking amount of time is spent on these topics.

Even the requisite cameos are handled badly. (That's not a spoiler, since Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson are listed in the opening credits.) The Hoff strangely appears to be playing his television character, which is to say, the exact same character Johnson is playing. No context is provided for that little mystery. His and Anderson's appearances feel exactly like what they are: a box being checked.

So what, if anything, does Baywatch get right? The multi-cultural cast is certainly appealing. Seeing them all together in a better movie would be great since they work up some decent chemistry in spite of weak material. As always, Johnson in particular gives 100% – a fact that makes him one of the most enjoyable stars to watch, no matter what he's in. There's some nice cinematography, too. On the whole, though, Baywatch is a missed opportunity. The show provides more than enough fodder for a spoof. The movie opts to ignore it.

( 1/2 out of four)

Baywatch is rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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