The tradition of ogling beautiful people on the beach goes much further back than that ’90s TV staple of jiggle-schlock, Baywatch. In the mid-’60s, the young Sally Field made a charming, ridiculously peppy teen surf angel on ABC’s Gidget. At the movies in ’63, teen heartthrob Frankie Avalon and onetime Mouseketeer Annette Funicello began kicking up sand in Beach Party. Before that, Victorian-era gents enjoyed postcards of bathing beauties in woolen swimsuits. Ancient Egyptians probably had their own version of shoreline eye candy.
Still, your friends may laugh if you express a desire to see Seth Gordon’s modernized Baywatch. Time to find new friends. This new Baywatch is lightweight, a tiny bit crude and a trillion grains of sand away from anything approaching realism. But it’s also a lot of fun. If you’re looking to lose yourself in a picture that won’t tax your cranium too much, you could do worse than to submit to this one’s frisky surf.
The story, adapted from a long-lost play by Arthur Miller (just kidding), goes something like this: outlandishly proportioned Dwayne Johnson plays Mitch Buchannon, chief lifeguard at an upscale beach filled with well-greased, muscle-bound dudes and scantily clad athletic lovelies. It’s lifeguard-tryout time. While there are plenty of qualified candidates striving to join Mitch’s team–alongside stalwart sidekicks Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach)–the big boss (Rob Huebel) urges him to favor pompous party boy Matt Brody (Zac Efron). The former Olympic swimmer fell from grace, Ryan Lochte–style. Meanwhile, scheming beach-club owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) slinks around in skimpy evening dresses. And two stars of the original show, David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, cruise by in cameos.
That’s about as much plot as you need for a Baywatch movie, and Gordon (Identity Thief, Horrible Bosses) keeps the whole thing motoring along nicely. Many of the gags are just plain dumb, but the spirit behind them is so buoyantly innocent that you laugh anyway. In a flashback, we see gold medalist Matt huffing his way arrogantly through a television interview. “There’s no i in team, but there is a me,” he tells his interviewer. “Are you dyslexic?” she asks in response. “No,” he replies earnestly, “I’m Caucasian.”
It’s worth noting that Gordon and screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift are careful not to score cheap jokes at the expense of the women characters. In fact, there are many more dumb-hunk jokes than there are dumb-blonde jokes. (There’s probably only one gag that qualifies as the latter, and it’s an inoffensive throwaway.) What we get, mostly, is the Rock’s Mitch–beautiful in his own right, with the kind of sunbeam smile rarely seen on anyone over the age of 10–lobbing insults at Efron. Pretending not to have taken note of his name, Mitch refers to him by a series of off-the-cuff monikers: “Where you from, One Direction?” he riffs at one point, later addressing this self-important little spud as ‘N Sync, Bieber and, appropriately enough, High School Musical. Efron’s timing has a pleasant Judy Holliday–style dizziness: Whenever an insult hits, he waits a beat, as if giving himself extra time to let it sink in. He’s high on being a himbo.
Should all else fail, there are simply lots of beautiful humans in Baywatch, people who are tanned and toned, with teeth whitened to an unreal degree. Your friends–the ones who might think Baywatch is beneath them–may pretend they don’t care about beach babes and beefcake, but they’re probably lying.
This appears in the June 05, 2017 issue of TIME.
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