Directed by Seth Gordon.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, David Hasselhoff, and Pamela Anderson.
Devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchannon butts heads with a brash new recruit. Together, they uncover a local criminal plot that threatens the future of the Bay.
Whatever cause for concern that a Baywatch film would have to be heavily sanitized to work in a modern-day politically correct climate (one that is consistently taking steps forward in desexualizing cinematic women in an effort to level the playing field with their male counterparts across all genres) should be washed away. However, that does not mean this reboot of the fairly popular television series (most known for launching the acting career of Pamela Anderson and regularly showing off a gratuitous amount of beautiful slow-motion running, boob-bouncing ladies) is some exceptional comedy that does wonders in self-satire such as Phil Lord and Christopher Miller did with bringing back 21 Jump Street from total obscurity.
If anything, this version of Baywatch has gone overboard with raunch. One of the film’s first scenes sees Baywatch lifeguard trainee Ronnie (Jon Bass) get a massively visible erection from making casual conversation with his crush and inspiration for signing up to protect the beach, CJ (Kelly Rohrbach in the blonde bombshell role), which is followed by him immediately getting his junk caught in a wooden chair. This then prompts head of the bay Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson delivering some great comedic work as a lifeguard that treats his position as seriously as law enforcement) to get involved and help. Basically, it’s a five-minute scene built around a dick joke that isn’t very funny to begin with as it drags and drags. Baywatch is already one of those unnecessarily two hour-long comedies desperately in need of some more time on the cutting room floor, so moments like this don’t exactly win any favors. Again, even worse is that this is how the comedy begins.
No need to freak out yet though, the dynamic chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron will save the movie, right? The answer is yes and no. There is a questionable decision to present Brody (Zac Efron in another hard-R, humorous performance that he’s been seemingly completely and reliably comfortable in) as a disgraced two-time swimming Olympic gold medalist winner who is wholly disinterested in working with the entire crew as a team, only concerned with finding a way to rise up from rock-bottom. Although this does make for arguably the best line in the movie – ” These all sound like far-fetched but entertaining stories from a ridiculous TV show” he retorts after Mitch explains the serious situations and dangers of working for Baywatch – it also means that the first half doesn’t allow for the two to fully click in hilarious fashion such as in the second half where everyone is buddy-buddy.
However, what’s odd is that it almost feels as if the character was rewritten on the fly from this turning point, going from selfish douchebag bro to lovably dimwitted goofball. I certainly won’t complain too much, as again, the second half of Baywatch is much funnier than the first, but the writing throughout the movie is certainly shoddy. There are so many cuts during conversations that it actually becomes distracting as it becomes clear director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) is just smashing together different variations of captured footage in hopes of presenting the funniest possible take on each scene. Naturally, this doesn’t work. Some characters literally deliver lines with the camera framed behind the back of their head so the direction can hide obvious voiceovers.
Then there’s the hideous CGI and special effects causing, even more, distraction, unfortunately during action spectacles where all the money for production already probably went. Without spoiling too much, there is an extensive exploding ship sequence with some truly ghastly fire and smoke effects (the explosions aren’t any better); we’re talking so bad that the movie tries to actually hide it by filming as much of the movie as possible showing Zac Efron swimming underwater. It doesn’t really help the presentation of all, however, as it’s all clearly green-screened to hell and back. Even the climax of the movie (which is actually awesome and has quite a few lines longtime fans of Dwayne Johnson will never let him live down) just suffers somewhat from the severe lack of visual quality. No one is asking Baywatch to look like a Marvel superhero film, but damn, it isn’t pretty.
Realistically, everyone even remotely interested in Baywatch is interested in a different kind of visual on display; both the men and women of the beach. To the film’s credit, it does try to poke fun at the television series for its extreme and over-the-top methods of sexualizing the female lifeguards, but at the end of the day, it essentially feels thankless. The only female that mostly escapes this depiction is Mitch’s second-in-command played by Ilfenesh Hadera, who is the one of the bunch most focused on getting things done. Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach basically play supporting character love interests to their male counterparts. To be fair, this is all definitely what people want to see, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a missed opportunity to go full-on sharp satire and really send up the television series. Even the film’s villainous female doesn’t really make a lasting impression; Priyanka Chopra plays the character intensely and cold, but it’s so underwritten that it’s hard to care. For women viewers, there is definitely some equal opportunity objectification, most notably when Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron basically have an extended physically intense competition together; it’s a miracle a digital file can handle that much muscle and abs without corrupting.
Again, Baywatch goes too far in this direction; I’ve already mentioned one scene above, but to further drive home the point, well, let’s just say one scene sees Zac Efron playing with a penis for no other reason besides comedic shock value that bluntly feels lazy and uninspired. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron are two gifted comedic actors that understand timing and how to deliver lines; they simply deserve better material to work with. Still, they somehow almost make it work. Chalk it up to Dwayne successfully being able to find chemistry with literally anyone, which is surely a byproduct of his years of work cutting promos in WWE.
I can laugh at dick jokes just as much as the next person, and I certainly don’t mind bodies of both genders gratuitously on display for no other reason than pure entertainment, but Baywatch is still a letdown. The plot is generic, many of the laughs feel forced, the special effects are hideous, it’s overly long, and the script is a bit of a mess thanks to so many writers working on it. Despite all this, the radiating charisma and talent from Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron come very, very close to saving Baywatch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★