Friday, May 26, 2017

Beach Movie: BAYWATCH

Exactly the sort of big, dumb, industrial-strength, R-rated action comedy primed for the chattering classes to claim superiority over, Seth Gordon’s Baywatch movie is so base, so low, and so sincere in its shameless tittering silliness and commitment to creaky formula that of course it’s a good time at the movies. It’s shot with phony glossiness, filled with hot bods in skimpy clothes, and ready to go for endless banter and gross-out tangents alike. (A lengthy sequence of revulsive body horror comedy in a morgue is the movie’s indefensible nadir.) But, although it’s uneven, it’s also largely a good time. It has the grinning comportment of a genial half-sleazy/half-silly goof, just far enough over the top you can see its makers winking as they nudge their borrowed concept – overzealous lifeguards interceding beyond their authority – in the ribs. We’re not talking full on Lord/Miller meta in a screenplay credited to a committee of six writers, but just a dusting of self-awareness to the pleasantly empty formula. 

Gordon fills the ensemble with a collection of aspiring lifeguards under the macho man benevolence of Dwayne Johnson’s master swim survivalist. He’s the best at what he does and, in typical The Rock movie fashion, is only held back by those who won’t let him fix everything himself. It’s how his AWOL rescue chopper pilot in San Andreas doesn’t read as completely despicable when he absconds with Coast Guard property, abandoning his post to save his own family. Here he’s whipping a callow Lachte-lite scandalous Olympic swimmer (preposterously ripped Zac Efron) into shape as his replacement, while the other lifeguards (runway ready Alexandra Daddario, Ilfenesh Hadera, and Kelly Rohrbach, and chubby sight gag Jon Bass) help out where they can. The whole thing could be dripping in leering objectification, a la the original slow-mo bounce. But despite plenty of ogling, it’s all good-natured and balanced between the genders: heaving cleavage and rippling pecs alike, and suits hugging every sculpted tuchus tightly. There’s something refreshingly harmless about its equal opportunity eye-candy frivolity. 

A generic drug-smuggling action plot airlifted right out of the 1980s passes for story – Priyanka Chopra’s kingpin (or should I say “queenpin?”) is a stylish, affable villainous presence – but for all the fireworks that conflict sets off – and satisfyingly so, with action beats pleasantly brisk – it’s the loose hangout vibe of the picture that makes it work more often than not. In its likeably slumming stars, splashy shiny half-faked beachfront cinematography, and sandy shaggy digressions (including some half-painful cameos from the original series), the whole endeavor is so agreeably low. Although I still wonder if Gordon (having made the likes of Four Christmases and Horrible Bosses, decent for middling affairs) will ever make a fictional comedy as good as his 2007 doc The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (still the funniest work of his career), this big-screen junk-TV revival is his best attempt yet.

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