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'Baywatch' isn't the way nostalgia is supposed to work

If you can actually stand to watch all of "Baywatch"  (the end-credit outtakes aren't too bad), it will eventually remind you of exactly how godawful the '90s TV series was.

Nostalgia isn't supposed to work like that, as we all know. We're supposed to watch or listen or read the reminders of things gone by and have fond thoughts about the past and where we were when Janet gave us our first kiss or when little Algernon took his first baby steps toward his grandmother.

The movie is actually tolerable for the first 40 minutes. Stupid and juvenile to a remarkable degree, to be sure, but with a large share of crude language and gross-out sniggering to go along with all the hot women in suntans and red swimsuits jogging in slo-mo and guys whose pecs, abs, glutes, delts and biceps have been honed to achieve the durability of aluminum.

The guys are chiefly Dwayne Johnson as Mitch, the beach's head lifeguard and Zac Efron as the cocky new recruit in the lifeguard corps, a former Olympic Gold Medal swimmer now on hard times because his partying cost his team the relay medal when, hung over, he threw up in the pool. They now call him "the Vomit Comet."

The women are Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach in the red suits and Priyanka Chopra fully dressed as the villain in the movie.

Those first 40 minutes have a nice, numbskulled, junky rude spirit. Johnson does a lot of motormouth ragging on Efron. He calls him all kinds of creative names indicating puniness and sissiness. At one point, he calls him "High School, the Musical" which you must admit is pretty funny. They compete in inane muscle contests to see which one is the reigning fitness brute of the beach.

"Are you Batman?" an admiring kid asks Johnson. "Sure pal," he answers. "Just bigger. And browner."

A tech-savvy boy named Ronnie Greenberg has a thing for C.J. (Rohrbach), the lifeguard played memorably on TV by Pamela Anderson. But he has so much trouble calming his hormonal excitement that his arousal, at one point, traps him in the slots of a beach bench. There are a lot of male pudenda here, including one belonging to a corpse.

When Chopra introduces herself as the evil, conniving proprietor of the Beach Club seeking dominion over everything, she notes cheekily "I'm not a Bond villain, yet."

I'm not claiming that the first 40 minutes are any good, mind you, but I could have watched a whole movie in that spirit without wishing that everyone who made it be banished to Far Tortuga.

But then Johnson and Efron make up, become partners and for some godforsaken reason the movie thinks it needs a drug-running plot and everything turns to rank, odoriferous seaweed. You're reminded of why the original syndicated series was so automatically avoidable by anyone over 12 in a conscious state.

The series' huge success around the world is a mark of how international audiences only care about things to look at. How completely they accepted America's muscular, leggy, low-cut definition of physical beauty is the most interesting thing by far about "Baywatch," but we'll talk about that when there's a good reason to consider "Baywatch" an actual subject.

This thing isn't it. When the plot returns the film to the level of the awful original TV show, you're on your own. By all means, laugh at all the hi-jinx in the morgue if you insist but as it progressed, I just wanted to see someone give Johnson, Efron and Daddario their dignity back.

But hey, that's just me. For the record, David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson show up for cameos.

One of the companies that produces this calls itself "The Shangai Group" so it's anybody's guess how they'll feel about all those slo-mo babes and beefcake himbos (to use some '90s terminolgy) in China.

They may very well love them.

 

Movie Review

"Baywatch"

One and a half out of four stars

Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach and Jon Bass star in Seth Gordon's movie from the 1990s TV series about buff California lifeguards. Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content and frontal nudity. 116 minutes.

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