Directed by Seth Gordon.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, and Jon Bass.
A washed-up Olympic swimmer finds himself teaming up with a squad of elite lifeguards to uncover an international drug smuggling plot and save the beach they’re sworn to protect.
Based on a famously cheesy, and similarly ridiculous, long-running TV show of the same name, it’s worth lowering your expectations for Baywatch straight off the bat. And even if you had no expectations to begin with, it’s still somehow worth lowering them further: this is about as brainless as summer movies get. Half gross-out farce, half stupendously silly buddy cop actioner, guaranteed to righteously offend anyone with even half-an-ounce of intellectualism to their film tastes. Everyone else though, is guaranteed a whale of a time.
It’s been a long time since someone made a blockbuster that’s this aggressively stupid without a giant herd of animated alien robots to fall back on, but at the very, very least, both director Seth Gordon and the cast of Baywatch are fully aware of what they’re getting themselves into. For a movie that literally starts with the pulsating biceps of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, princess-carrying a helpless injured surfer to safety with a gigantic flashing title-card sparking over a tidal wave behind him, it very much sticks to its often overwhelming tone almost all the way through.
In fact, if anything, the near god-level worship of Johnson and the rest of the film’s ongoing self-awareness can actually get a little too much at times; like Gordon and co. are so insistent that they’re in on the joke that it comes off feeling far too desperate overall. The trick to the cheesy TV remakes that came before it (that very much set the trend that Baywatch has since followed) was a careful balance of the new and old, the self-aware and the general straight-up comedy; and with all its constant self-abuse and poorly shoe-horned fan-service/cameos, Gordon’s film feels like C-grade Jump Street at best.
Despite all of these scripting issues though (and a paper thin drug-running plot that, let’s face it, very few people were expecting to be inventive/intelligible anyway), there’s no denying that there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the film’s cast. Even when Johnson’s not around to rattle off insult after insult, or flex his ridiculous body in the direction of yet another 80s-style one-liner, his newbie teammates more than make up the difference. Efron is still a delight as the same preppy cool kid he’s grown up mastering (and could seemingly play in his sleep), Rohrbach and Bass are an unlikely but cute pairing, and the fierce (but also sadly, totally underused) Hadera and Daddario kick plenty of bottom in all the right places.
Unlike the appeal of the original TV show, there’s certainly much more of an attempt to balance out the levels of objectification here too. It’s still not quite in balance, and much of Gordon and his team’s attempts to downplay the levels of male gazing on display come down to simply just taking the piss out of the fact that they’re doing it, which certainly doesn’t make it alright. But at the same time, there is a conceited effort to throw some light on the male anatomy here too (the only real nudity is male), and ultimately anyone expecting a buttoned-up, fleshless approach from a big-budget movie adaptation of Baywatch, aimed at a largely young audience, is frankly insane.
It’s not quite the summer movie event of the year, or really even Johnson or Efron’s best, but between the pair’s winning comedic chemistry, plenty of killer one-liners and an (at times, excessively) fun tone, there’s just enough to enjoy here to make Baywatch worth a watch. But if you find yourself drowning in the cheap cheesiness of it all, don’t expect any two-handed plot twists or burly action set-pieces to come swimming along to save the day; this one’s as dumb as a dolphin, and proud of it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Ben Robins / @BMLRobins