As Hollywood continues to bring out all the dead shows of the past, it naturally stumbled across Baywatch and decided that now was the time to try and bring it to the big screen. Much of the inspiration for making the film clearly came from the enormous success of the 21 Jump Street films, which took another somewhat ridiculous show and satirised its worn out tropes to kingdom come, as well as tackling the tired nature of remakes of TV shows (in the first film) and sequels that repeat the same plot as the original (in, naturally, the second film). Baywatch clearly wanted a piece of that pie as it tries takes on a more self-aware and comedic bent with the source material. This time around lead lifeguard Mitch Buchanan is played by the inimitable Dwayne Johnson, who leads the Baywatch team to great success and popularity on the beach. When the team adds some new recruits he runs into Matt Brody (Zac Efron), an arrogant disgraced former Olympic medal winning swimmer whose brash personality makes him unsuited to working in a team (which is spelt out early on in ridiculously unsubtle ways). The two have to learn to work together when they discover a plot from businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) to take control of the beach.
In spite of the more satirical direction that the trailers indicate, Baywatch ends up feeling like an incredibly indecisive film. It can’t make up its mind on whether it wants to be a full out silly comedy or a more earnest action movie. In the end it tries a bit of both but doesn’t really succeed in doing either very well which leads to some very strange changes in the films mood – it can go from a serious action scene into a dick joke with all the grace of an elephant tap dancing. The comedy is what really suffers in this whole mess of a movie; it tries to hang lampshades on the ridiculous tropes of Baywatch but does it a little too half-heartedly. Instead it seems to be more focused upon shunting all the lamest dick jokes in the world onto the audience, as well as repeatedly hammering in the fact that Efron’s character kind of looks like some teen pop star, which gets old quickly. The action scenes are surprisingly a bit better, with some genuinely exciting moments sprinkled in here and there. There is a lot of slow-mo but that was a staple of the show so it can’t be marked down for lack of loyalty. Ultimately this half-in half-out approach really doesn’t work for Baywatch as it makes it feel like a film in identity crisis, not sure whether it wants to skewer or love the series.
Elsewhere the plot of the film is a very predictable one – you can see all the twists and turns coming from a mile away, with characters set up to be surprise villains being very obviously signposted and the whole mystery being uncompelling as a result. As for the characters, Johnson is naturally very charismatic and he does do well in his part as Buchanan, being an enjoyable presence to watch in spite of his not great material. Efron starts off as being an annoying jackass but his character gets better in the second half and he does deliver a few chuckleworthy moments. The rest of the cast is a bit awash though – Chopra’s villain is a very poor one, having nothing more but a bland “I want to be rich” motivation and her performance is disengaging as a result. The rest of the Baywatch crew, including Alexandra Daddario’s Summer Quinn and Kelly Rohrbach taking over Pamela Anderson’s CJ Parker, don’t do too poorly overall but they really don’t have much to do. The film’s also saddled by the very annoying Ronnie (Jon Bass), who has all the worst comic relief moments and all the way through essentially acts like a more annoying version of a Jonah Hill character, basically being there just to be fat, scream, fall over and lust after CJ. This all adds up to a crew of characters that aren’t horrible but are so ridiculously unexciting.
Baywatch isn’t a dreadful movie but it’s a clear sign of being nothing but a cash grab, intended to leech off not only the success of the TV series but the whole satirical nature of the 21 Jump Street films. Its decision to not fully commit to either being more serious or going full on farce really sinks the movie as it ends up looking like it doesn’t know what it’s trying to be. The comedy of the film is incredibly weak with its overreliance on dick jokes, and the action is a little better but can’t save a predictable plot with not great characters. Really, the only thing this film has going for it is its fanservice; Johnson and Efron are rippling with their intense abs on display for much of the film whilst the three female members of Baywatch all look ravishing in their swimming costumes. So in a way Baywatch is a rather loyal adaptation in a way – it ignores all the important stuff such as story and characters and instead focuses more on the fanservice. And we don’t need to bother going out to the cinema to just watch fanservice.
Baywatch – Directed by Seth Gordon, screenplay by Damien Shannon and Mark Swift, story by Jay Scherik, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, produced by Ivan Reitman, Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonann and Beau Flynn, starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera and Priyanka Chopra. A Contrafilm/Montecito Picture Company/Seven Bucks production, a Paramount Pictures film