Baywatch review: Zac Efron is the funniest player in dated and occasionally awkward reboot

Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron star as two lifeguards with very different attitudes when it comes to saving lives in BaywatchParamount Pictures

During its 12 years on the air, Baywatch was one of those TV shows that everyone knew was utter tosh but it still managed to carve out a soft spot in each of its viewers hearts with its sun-kissed glow and easy-to-follow plot lines. It was essentially like a British soap but with much, much more swimwear.

The dedicated fandom and obvious nostalgia surrounding it still to this day, convinced Paramount Pictures that it would be a good idea to revisit the same world of impossibly good-looking lifeguards; hence a Baywatch film starring Alexandra Daddario, Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock was born.

Baywatch4 stars

"The first scene was the best," is a phrase no film-maker wants to hear about their recent outing. On paper, director Seth Gordon seemed like the perfect choice to provide big-screen Baywatch with the modern twist it so needed. But sadly, unlike his previous comedy Horrible Bosses – which started slow and built up to a crazy finale – Baywatch comes in all [bicep] gun's blazing and deflates as fast as a busted beach ball from thereon in.

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The film's prologue is arguably its most memorable sequence, as Johnson's Mitch Buchannon watches over the coastline from his prestigious Tower 1 position. Just in case you aren't quite sure what lifeguards do for their day jobs, Mitch luckily gets a chance to show you as a kitesurfer gets swept up by a particularly vicious wind and he's forced to take action.

As the surfer gets dragged underwater and hits his head, Mitch bombs down the beach and leaps into the sea. Within seconds, Johnson emerges from the water bald head first like a triumphant torpedo, carrying the victim in his arms, as the word "Baywatch" – in all capital letters, no less – thunders out of the waves behind him.

It's quite the eye-widening spectacle and to top it all off, four dolphins jump out of the water in unison to really commemorate Mitch's save. Unfortunately, Baywatch never quite keeps up that same momentum, abandoning that self-aware, tongue-in-cheek tone for a more generic, cheese-ball comedy style that often doesn't sit right alongside its dated plot.

Alexandro Daddario (second from the left) and Kelly Rohrbach's (second from the right) characters are practically non-existentUniversal Pictures

The film itself centres on Mitch, a by-the-books and well-loved lifeguard – famously played by David Hasselhoff in the TV series – who prides himself on how well he takes care of his team and the bay they protect as a unit. But when he starts noticing the same drugs washing up on his beach every day, he begins to suspect that the local property tycoon Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) – who doesn't go anywhere without her menacing-looking henchman – might have something to do with it.

His problems are amplified when he learns that Matt Brody (Efron), an Olympian dubbed "The Vomit Comet" for reasons you won't find here, has been assigned to his team as part of the latter's community service. Despite his apprehensions about the squad's newest recruit, Mitch finds himself rallying his troops the best he can as they try to get to the bottom of the dirty dealings going down on their patch.

Unsurprisingly, given its Criminal Minds-sounding storyline, Baywatch is at its funniest when its not concerned with driving the plot forward and in those moments, it is genuinely hilarious. One sequence towards the beginning of the movie sees Jon Bass' Ronnie get his junk caught in a sunbed after a female lifeguard gives him the Heimlich manoeuvre and the constant stream of innuendos are impossible not to laugh at.

That zany humour doesn't stick around however, as only one of the film's leads knows what to do with the material they're given. While it's entertaining to see giant Johnson using a Roman candle as a weapon or ridicule the ripped-but-still-puny-next-to-him Efron, he's not a one-liner kind of man and barely any of his witty dialogue manages to land.

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On the flip side, Efron is undoubtedly the film's saving grace, using his experience of playing a slightly crazy-eyed cocky guy à la Bad Neighbours or Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates to good use and owning his character's more comedic moments. (Look out for a standout scene of his where Mitch, Summer and Brody get up to some mischief in a morgue and the latter has to reluctantly investigate a dead man's tackle).

Priyanka Chopra's villain Victoria Leeds is so thinly sketched, it's a wonder how they even justified her character being in it at allUniversal Pictures

So the male characters are a relatively mixed bag, but what of the females? Well if there were any of note to write about, that question would be a whole lot easier to answer. The problem is, the world has changed a lot since those days when Yasmine Bleeth and Pamela Anderson used to run in slow-motion for minutes on end across the sand... and so have audience's expectations, too.

Yet, this new Baywatch still sees its female cast members regularly objectified in the same way and given very little character to work with in return. Kelly Rohrbach stars as the cliched "hot girl who falls for the nerdy one in the group" while Daddario's Summer Quinn is only there to provide Brody with an emotional arc. Ilfenesh Hadera's take on Mitch's right-hand woman Stephanie Holden is slightly more respectful, but she still only gets two or three lines. Chopra's baddie is shamefully thin too, as she embodies a wishy-washy Bond-esque villain.

Basically, try as it might to have heart – and boy, does it try... (Johnson might even say "family" more times in this movie than he does throughout the entire Fast & Furious franchise) – the film still ends up being little more than an unrelenting invitation for cinemagoers to ogle. Even if your eyes are frantically searching for something substantial. A sprinkling of those kinds of scenes were to be expected – it's a quick-and-easy way to nod back to the original series – but it just doesn't translate in today's world, cementing only one notion: Baywatch should have stayed in the 1990s.

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