Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Hannibal Buress, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Oscar Nuñez
If you go into Baywatch expecting arthouse cinema or even an original plot, you’re doing it wrong. This is a bro-style movie through and through as it caters to that demographic in every possible way. Dwayne Johnson is head lifeguard Mitch Buchanan who is basically a legend at the Bay. He’s spent his career building up his legendary and mythical reputation. It’s the start of the summer season and the Bay is hosting tryouts for new lifeguard recruits. Mitch meets his match with Zac Efron’s Matt Brody. Brody’s a former gold medal Olympian known as “the vomit comet” and has recently tarnished his reputation. He’s been hired by the Bay in order to complete his community service work and boost the spotlight on the financially hard up beach. Let’s just say Brody is annoyed about being there and Mitch has no time for his attitude. This isn’t all that’s going down on the beach as tiny baggies full of a synthetic drug named “flocka” wash ashore. It becomes a cops versus lifeguards battle to see who can get to the bottom of who’s smuggling the drugs onto the beach. That would be Quantico’s Priyanka Chopra behind it all as a new real estate queen looking to pull a monopoly on that strip of the coast. I wouldn’t consider that a spoiler as the writers and Chopra’s acting choices don’t try to keep that a secret in her first few scenes.
I grew up watching Baywatch as a kid. Maybe that’s weird to say, but it was guilty pleasure programming for an adolescent going through puberty. The original show ran in syndication from 1989-2001 — far longer than it ever should have given the content. That being said, you have to go into Baywatch thinking of it with that nightly soap type of mentality. The character names and premise have been kept the same. Dwayne Johnson steps into David Hasselhoff’s shoes, while Kelly Rohrbach plays the Pamela Anderson role of CJ Parker. There are plenty of other similarities for fans even down to the red floatation devices and skimpy swimsuits. This Baywatch has been adapted for a 2017 audience to cater to the raunchy, action-comedy demographic akin to the 21 Jump Street movies.
The writing of 21 Jump Street exceeded expectations, but the same can’t be said for Baywatch as its execution is not nearly as funny or creative. The beginning setup stumbles to figure out what kind of movie it wants to be. There are some wasted scenes and opportunities where gag jokes, the bickering between Efron and Johnson, and the lifeguard training camp seems to go on for too long. The writing gets very lazy across the board as the film progresses. It consistently plays into the bathroom humor catering to that collegiate summer break mentality. There’s a running gag where Johnson throws insults at Efron by calling him Bieber, One Direction, and yes, High School Musical, which launched Efron’s career. The film also cuts corners when it comes to its bland main villain played by Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra. She’s painfully miscast here as a real estate titan and drug ringleader. She can’t seem to play into the fun of it and make her a juicy villain.
When the movie is self-aware and making fun of itself or the actors, it works well. Dwayne Johnson wanted to play into that when he helped get this movie into production. They play into the slow-mo running and give it a ridiculous plotline involving a drug crime ring that easily would have been found on the show. The only cameos from the original actors are Hasselhoff and Anderson. Johnson has become a natural in these action hero roles. Despite his early career as a WWF wrestler, he’s successfully transitioned into a reliable movie star and comedian. He’s always aware of his brand and type and plays into it well as Mitch Buchanan. Zac Efron continues to play the not-too-bright, drunken, immature character. It’s very evident his character is modeled after USA Olympian Ryan Lochte. Efron has been stuck in this rut for a few years now, and he needs to move on to more challenging material.
I fully acknowledge that I am probably in the minority by stating that I found myself enjoying Baywatch more than I should have given its lazy factor. It’s not coming from great source material in the first place, so the bar was low. I don’t think anyone will come out of the movie praising how great it is, but it somehow manages to deliver what audiences are going in for at the most basic level. Efron and Johnson have insane bodies and are shirtless about 90% of the time. The frat boys will love the female eye candy as well as analyzing the workout routines Efron and Johnson went through in preparation. Once I settled into the idea that it wasn’t a crowning achievement of a movie, I could enjoy it a bit more as it scratched that nostalgia itch.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? It’s certainly not a great movie but passable in a guilty pleasure, nightly summer soap novelty way.
RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS