I’m going to be in the minority on this one but I’m here to tell you that Baywatch isn’t nearly as bad as people are saying. It’s definitely juvenile and not as clever as it should be but during its nearly 2-hour runtime I laughed a bit and didn’t feel like I wasted my time. It certainly isn’t high art by any means but neither was the TV show that the film is based on.
It would be foolish to make a “straight” adaptation of the TV series, which was viewed as cheesy even when it was popular. The TV show, which was one of the most popular shows in the world when it was revived for syndication after being canceled by NBC, was known primarily for slow motion runs on the beach and for all things that jiggled rather than any key plot points. Knowing this, director Seth Gordon and his screenwriters decided to go the 21 Jump Street route of making things openly comedic. There is enough potential humor in the concept that it makes it prime for satire and this is where Baywatch shines yet also where it treads water a bit. Some of the humor is clever enough to poke fun at itself but it also falls into the trap of the typical R-rated comedy. Raunchy isn’t always funny and if you’ve heard one dick joke, you’ve heard them all but Baywatch seems to think they’re still fresh and new so the film is full of them. 21 Jump Street (and its sequel) managed to let its intelligence come through on most of its more obscene gags but Baywatch can’t seem to do both.
The plot does seem like it’s perfectly lifted from one of the episodes from its TV counterpart. It’s a standard order story about a rich villain with megalomaniacal tendencies, the sexy Victoria Leeds played by Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, trying to buy all the coastal land to create a private resort. To do that, she’s not above drug dealing, kidnapping, and murder. The Emerald Bay lifeguard corps, led by Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), begin an investigation because that’s what lifeguards do when there’s a dead body on their watch. And, while they’re uncovering Victoria’s evil scheme, they’re integrating three new recruits onto the team. One is an athletically challenged geek (Jon Bass), another is a competent, drop-dead gorgeous woman (Alexandra Daddario), and the third is a two-time gold medal winning champion, who seems to be channeling Ryan Lochte, named Matt Brody (Zac Efron).
The one aspect that allows Baywatch to overcome some of its inconsistencies is its cast. They exhibit good chemistry and all seem to be in on the joke that this is nothing to take too seriously. Dwayne Johnson brings his signature charm to the film while Zac Efron manages to milk a few more laughs out of his frat boy persona, even if it’s probably wearing out its welcome. As a pair, they’re the best the film has to offer. They clearly enjoyed working together and their banter feels unforced and natural. From Johnson referring to Efron’s character with various boy band names to what Efron’s balls sound like (you have to see it but it gets a laugh), they do what’s necessary to get laughs from the audience. The rest of the cast has fun playing with the stereotypes of their characters. Kelly Rohrbach, taking on the Pamela Anderson role of CJ Parker, is played more for her looks but they infuse her with enough personality that the joke seems to be that we’re supposed to ignore how hot she is. There is no way in real life that she would go for Jon Bass’ poor man’s Josh Gad routine (credit my fellow writing colleague with that description) but they give her a personality that makes the union somewhat believable. Alexandra Daddario and Ilfenesh Hadera are also infused with personality and intelligence but they’re also in on the joke that everyone is on display for their eye candy, rather than the brains they bring to the table.
The film does falter when it comes to the villain. I think they were trying to poke fun at the over the top villainy that the show was known for but it comes off more as a glaring cliché, rather than solid satire. Priyanka Chopra, taking some time off from Quantico, is enticing enough but she is way too on the nose in her portrayal. All she was missing was a mustache for twirling because it’s all too obvious that she’s evil. There is very little mystery as to what her intentions are (I mean she comes complete with goons that seem lifted from the action/comedy handbook).
A lot of critics have attacked the action and the less than stellar CGI on display for some of the sequences but I thought it added to some of the cheese. We know what kind of movie we are getting as soon as the opening title card comes on screen. This isn’t something to be taken seriously and the action follows suit. A lot of it is of the generic variety with typical ocean chases and explosions but I thought it worked for what the film was selling.
I’m giving Baywatch faint praises because it’s entertaining enough. When I saw it last Friday, I was very aware that it was a bit stupid but I got a few good laughs and felt like I didn’t waste my time when it was over. Will this be remembered as a comedic classic? No! But it was a tolerable Friday matinee diversion that served its purpose at the moment.
Reel Talk gives Baywatch 2.5 Reels