UK Release Date: 29th May 2017
Runtime: 116 minutes
Director: Seth Gordon
Writer: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass
Synopsis: When a cocky young recruit is positioned in his team just as a dangerous drug washes up on the beach, a head lifeguard must decide where his priorities lie.
In the wake of the extraordinary success of the Jump Street movies, the postmodern reboot is becoming something of a feature in Hollywood. With the enviable star wattage of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron in its leading roles, as well as source material that is mostly remembered rather fondly, the stage seemed set for Baywatch to pick up where Jump Street had left off in ironic and entertaining fashion. Unfortunately, the resulting film has an identity crisis that leaves it as one of the worst major movies of the year.
Mitch (Johnson) is the beloved head lifeguard on a Florida beach, working with second in command Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and veteran lifeguard CJ (Kelly Rohrbach). His superior forces him to take on former Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Efron) as part of the team for a PR stunt. Mitch also recruits new lifeguard Summer (Alexandra Daddario) and spirited tech expert Ronnie (Jon Bass), who has always wanted to join the Baywatch crew. The new team investigates a spate of drugs washing up on the beach, which seems to lead to powerful business owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra).
Baywatch is a dismally poor film that fails to spot either the formula that made Jump Street such a success or the ingredients that helped the original Baywatch TV show. It pays occasional lip service to the kind of self-referential humour that Jump Street utilised, but the story is never in service to that tone. The plot, which takes in a ludicrously complex drug smuggling operation and political corruption, is kept entirely separate from the comedy – like different foodstuffs on the plate of a fussy eater.
That comedy is what creates the second problem with the film. The original television show was bonkers and camp, but also family-friendly and therefore capable of entertaining people of all ages. Seth Gordon‘s Baywatch film is an endlessly crass and consistently rude adult comedy that trades almost exclusively in bawdy sex jokes and supposedly near-the-knuckle set pieces. In one ludicrously extended sequence, Zac Efron’s character is forced to fondle the genitals of a male corpse for what seems like forever. The character played by Jon Bass – presumably Josh Gad was unavailable – essentially gets the girl because there are a number of scenes in which she ogles his large gentleman’s area, whether it’s flopping around in the shower or stuck between the slats of a deckchair. That’s the level of comedy on the table.
The film kids itself into thinking it’s a progressive take on the material by dividing the nudity pretty evenly between men and women. We see just as much of Johnson and Efron’s seemingly unlimited abs as we do of Daddario and Rohrbach in their skimpy swimsuits, but the female characters are written with absolutely no depth at all and they seldom get to crack a joke. Baywatch has no interest in crafting fully-rounded personalities for its women and instead indulges itself in a daft conspiracy plot augmented with some of the worst CGI in a mainstream movie this year.
Baywatch also fails to realise that a good comedy benefits from a brief running time. Gordon’s film runs to almost two hours and is packed with deeply unimaginative improvisational segments that seldom deliver bona fide comedy. Indeed, it’s an otherwise unamusing running gag in which Johnson insults Efron’s appearance that yields one of the film’s only real laughs. Johnson is typically charming, though, and his scenes are almost enough to rescue parts of the film. Ultimately, though, his undeniable charm cannot save this from drifting away into the surf like the unwanted ocean flotsam that it is.
Pop or Poop?
With more eyes for its cast’s perfect bodies than for its comedy, Baywatch is a disappointing film that proves to be a real seaside endurance test from start to finish. The charm of its leading men cannot help elevate the weak story and weaker filmmaking craft, talented female cast members are squandered with almost non-speaking roles and the whole thing feels like a shameless financial cash-in.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.