Forever and always, I’m always here!!!!
A recent trend in Hollywood history has been to take beloved TV shows from the 80s and 90s and give them new millennium, big-screen reboots with mixed results. In some cases, a new spin is put on the old, and in others, the film is essentially faithful to the formula laid out before it on the show. The latter is definitely true of Seth Gordon’s Baywatch, a film that captures the abject inanity of the original show while trying to give it a big boost of humor. Ultimately it is a film that is very true to its roots and it plays out like a long-form episode of the original show (maybe with a touch of Baywatch Nights mixed in), but the film’s humor falls completely flat any number of times. Its biggest issue, however, is that none of it is quite cohesive, in the end. Some mild spoilers ahead, but come on, it’s Baywatch.
The Rock steps into the incomprehensibly large shoes of David Hasselhoff to play Mitch Buchannon, a lifeguard in Emerald Bay, whose reputation among the community for protecting the bay is somehow even larger than he is. Zac Efron gets shoehorned into the plot on a throwaway point about public relations or… something. Truth be told the plot isn’t really all that memorable and is pretty ludicrous. Drugs in the bay, or some such nonsense, with Priyanka Chopra twisting her mustache to hatch a real estate scheme that would make Lex Luthor envious. Everyone’s double-crossing everyone else, it seems, and meanwhile, our lifeguards perform duties that aren’t lifeguard duties in trying to get to the bottom of this mystery. If one bought a ticket for a Baywatch movie expecting a super-intricate and realistic plot, well… check those expectations.
Now, stepping into a theater to watch Baywatch should bring with it certain expectations, namely that one is accepting that the plot will be a bizzaro-type mis-mash of things that make no sense; it will have lifeguards doing things that no lifeguard anywhere, ever, has had to do or has done; and it will be a veritable visual buffet of slow-motion footage of really beautiful people running toward the camera with their titillating parts bouncing and shimmering. In this regard, Baywatch is a fantastic homage to the show on which it is based, as it is all of these things, squared. The film not only does all of this, but numerous times, it plays them up for comedic effect in what are absolutely its best moments. We see Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) teasing Zac Efron’s Matt Brody about looking at her breasts and then jiggling them about for him (and the audience). Whenever Baywatch decides to poke fun at itself (including a couple of insanely meta moments and cameos), it is just fantastic and hilarious.
Where the film is a failure, unfortunately, is in its hard-R rating and a lot of the attempts at humor that aren’t derived from making fun of itself. A lot of the humor in the film really feels like it is trying way too hard to be funny, and this effect is so noticeable that nary a chuckle can be heard while watching it for extremely long stretches of the run time. Numerous gags are repeatedly revisited and are somewhat cringe-inducing the more they recur, such as the gag about local beat cop Ellerbee harassing Mitch about lifeguards not being cops. It is funny the first time around, but pumped full of dialogue like “I’ll call you on the shell phone” which elicits more eye-rolls than laughs, and they revisit this gag numerous times. Sadly, all of this incredibly forced humor chews up a good deal of the run time, leaving what little about the film does work to be spread out and peppered in only occasionally. The rating of the film is also not working in its favor here, as foul language seems to be peppered about the script for no other reason than to simply have it. As a reviewer and film viewer, this was way beyond over the top and seemed extremely unnecessary. This film honestly would’ve worked much better as a PG-13 summer blockbuster, and the studio may have hurt itself by trying to go super-hard-R instead.
For the casting and the performances, all of the lifeguards are 100% on point. Dwayne Johnson is effortlessly charming, even when he’s trying too hard, and really is the reason it is better than it is not at times. In fact, the film suffers most whenever he’s not on the screen. Zac Efron plays 56,000 abs in the film to great effect and looks like an absolute beast, and for the most part the chemistry and interaction between he and the Rock is great, and the source of many good chuckles. Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesh Hadera star as the female lifeguards and do a fantastic job of not just being eye candy, but being well-realized characters. They are strong and very capable characters in their own right, and it is to Baywatch’s credit that they are not JUST eye candy. That said, they are also exceptionally beautiful, and a lot of this focus goes onto Rohrbach in the film, who is trying to fill the shoes (and swimsuit) of Pamela Anderson as C.J. Parker, which she does extremely well. The lifeguards are rounded out by the doughy Jon Bass as Ronnie, whose casting in the film is essentially as a stereotypical Baywatch fanboy who ogled the beautiful lifeguards in the original show and certainly would’ve had a few Nicole Eggert, Carmen Electra, or Yasmine Bleeth posters on his wall. Ronnie actually plays pretty well off the rest of the far-more statuesque cast and is a great addition to the team, challenging the concept of beauty and athleticism while also poking a bit of fun at it. He stole the show in a number of different scenes, in fact.
It is definitely not perfect, and it is definitely derivative, trying to cash in on the “Jump Street” style of reboot that worked incredibly well for that franchise but to less-than-effective results here. Baywatch works far better as a parody of itself and when it shows that it understands exactly what kind of show/movie it was/is. In these respects, Seth Gordon’s picture is a smashing success and a colossal failure at the same time, and it feels disjointed for this, as the self-parodying aspects of it don’t mesh well when it tries to take itself more seriously. If the box office is good enough to generate a sequel, here’s hoping they delve even further into parody, although that well was also pretty well-tapped in this first go-round. Five out of Ten stars.