BAYWATCH Review

To what do we owe the pleasure of a Baywatch movie? In the wake of 21 Jump Street (and maybe Dukes of Hazard prior to that?) the idea of a big screen Baywatch movie seems like a treat, right? Granted that Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum spoof balanced the lampooning of its source material with being a legitimate and legitimately funny action/comedy it would seem that to apply that same formula to Baywatch would, at the very least, be a lot of fun if not obviously derivative. The possibility of this type of board room mentality where one thing works to great success so obviously it should be repeated until the general public is fed up with the trend would seem all the more likely to work in favor of a property like Baywatch when you factor in that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is starring and producing. Johnson is easily the most beloved movie stars on the planet at the moment and whatever he decides to invest his time in his fans will undoubtedly see-add to that mix the tried and true R-rated comedy buddy that currently is Zac Efron and you have a winning combo, right? Efron, along with Johnson, provide eye candy for the ladies as Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesha Hadera do the same for the guys (or whatever you're into, no judgement here) with the overall point being: there would seemingly be something attractive to everyone in Baywatch-especially as we immerse ourselves in the summer movie season and summer in and of itself where cases of beach fever are running rampant. Unfortunately, it seems the thought process behind the Baywatch movie was more in the vein of, "What else do we need? We have The Rock and Zac Efron! Let's just point the camera and shoot!" Baywatch is four minutes short of being an unnecessary two hours long and while everyone involved likely doesn't see an issue with this as they seemingly had a lot of fun making the movie (stay through the credits to see outtakes more fun than much of the movie) the final product viewers actually receive is very much a compilation of what that aforementioned board room thought would work rather than anything resembling an inspired idea.

Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) and Matt Brody (Zac Efron) are in life guard pursuit.
Photo by Frank Masi - © 2017 - Paramount Pictures
When going into something like Baywatch one would be hard pressed not to know what to expect. It's a re-vamp of a classically cheesy eighties and nineties sitcom that is an easy target while at the same time providing a sound and fun enough premise to elicit some solid action adventures from. Damian Shannon and Mark Swift's (Friday the 13th) screenplay begins by introducing us to Mitch Buchanan (Johnson) as he takes his morning run on the beach where he is recognized and adored by every patron he comes across who are all apparently on permanent vacations. It is made very clear, very early that Mitch understands he's a lifeguard, but that he takes his duties very seriously-actually, way too seriously. When you look like Johnson though, and have the skill to back it up it's hard to argue with why Mitch wouldn't choose to excel in every aspect of his life. He saves lives, he earns the respect of his inferiors, and he's generally just a nice guy who most people like to be around. That is, of course, until shamed Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Efron) shows up on the scene as a PR move for Mitch's respective bay and is placed on his team without his approval. Mitch and the Baywatch crew, which already includes Rohrbach's CJ Parker and Hadera's Stephanie Holden, hold annual trials for open spots on their team and while these events mainly serve to show off just how ripped our two leads are they also introduce us to fellow new recruits in Daddario's Summer Quinn as well as the slightly schlubby Ronnie (Jon Bass). Once past this extended sequence that interrupts our early exposition scenes the beats of the story begin to fall into place and we can see who's working against who and how the slim arc of the script might be accomplished. Priyanka Chopra (Quantico), one of the few highlights, is our antagonist who owns a resort on the beach and is looking to take over the remainder of the real estate on the strip in order to have a monopoly on the drug scene. It's pretty clear where each character will eventually fall while suspecting the obvious hang-ups we'll hit along the way. Were this a funnier movie such glaring conventions would be easier to overlook, but given Baywatch can't seem to crack its own comedy formula we rarely laugh and elicit little joy from the overall experience.

Most discouraging about Baywatch is that it clearly had so much potential to be a hell of a lot of fun so when one goes in with at least moderate expectations and still comes out underwhelmed despite the many promising factors-there's something wrong. Who is to blame, though? The writers for not being cleverer about how they subverted the campiness of the source material while still providing solid characters and laughs? The director, Seth Gordon (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Horrible Bosses), for shooting against green screen when he surely had the resources to shoot exteriors on a boat...just off the coast...of a beach? Maybe the editor for not only allowing this largely unfunny mess of a narrative to go on for so long, but for not even cutting particular scenes in ways that make the jokes most effective? What about the actors? Many of them, Johnson and Efron included, no doubt signed up to lend their names to such a project due to the likelihood of its success without ever reading a script. Sure, once they were contractually obligated they seem to have given it their all in order to make the weak script and flimsy direction work, but having a solid base to go off of might be something someone like Johnson (who is also a producer here) could have certainly demanded. Or hey, maybe it's no one particular person or departments fault at all-I mean, no one sets out to make a bad movie and everyone involved likely did their best for what they likely hoped would turn out to be a true reflection of that hard work, but in the end it's as if nothing clicked for Baywatch. And the humor is key-it's never funny enough and even with mild chuckles here and there-it is never consistent enough. That isn't to say the movie is totally devoid of laughs, but the ones that do work mostly involve Johnson spouting boy band nicknames at Efron and/or Efron getting in a mumbled comeback at people who are intellectually superior to his Matt Brody. The intended comic relief of this already broad comedy is supposed to be found in Bass' Ronnie AKA the only individual on the team without an eight pack and yet the only one who eats salads for lunch. Ronnie opens the film by getting his scrotum and schlong stuck in a beach chair, continues through the second act with a dance sequence that is trying so hard to be humorous it's almost cringe-inducing, and then finishes the film by landing a chick so out of his league it only works because she's been into him from the beginning, but we are never sure why or what formed this attraction as nothing about Ronnie is ever overly appealing-he's kind of just there and Bass does little to improve upon the sketch of a character the screenplay likely provided.

From left: Ilfenesha Hadera, Alexandra Daddario, Zac Efron, Kelly Rohrbach, and Jon Bass in Baywatch.
Photo by Frank Masi - © 2017 - Paramount Pictures
It is to the point expressed in the previous sentence that Baywatch was likely doomed from the get-go; setting up people and situations it seems to think are guaranteed to make audiences laugh it instead ends up standing in a theater full of crickets as the cast, no matter how determined, are unable to successfully convey such stale material. It doesn't help that the weight of the film falls squarely on the, albeit broad, shoulders of Johnson and Efron as neither are experienced in guiding a comedy on their own. Though the pairing of such powerhouses as Johnson and Efron is inspired the two of them are accustomed to playing some version of the straight man in their comedies-largely reacting to what their comic foil provides for them, but in Baywatch one was going to need to step up to the plate and take the reins. Johnson is very much the lead character here, but Efron is the more senseless of the two despite both of them getting into their fair share of antics that would only lead us to believe neither was willing to relegate themselves to a certain role for the sake of the comedy and that the two characters would meet in the middle on personality, behavior, and intelligence, but this resolution feels as half-assed as the rest of the movie. Making matter worse, Daddario, Rohrbach, and Hadera are given next to nothing to do. The three women are largely here to serve as potential love interests for each of the three male leads. For as much as the film hints there is something between Mitch and Hedara's Stephanie though, nothing is every followed up on. Daddario's Summer is resistant to Efron's Brody, but theirs is the romance that you know will happen no matter what because the script says it must. We've already touched on Bass and Rohrbach, but at least their chemistry kind of works and is fun to watch in a cheeky sort of way. Such complaints would all imply weak screenwriting, for sure, but it's really difficult to understand how things went this wrong. The "surprise" cameos the film features can't even be accomplished in poignant, but perfectly pitched spoofs of themselves. Rather, both are wasted in moments that fail to either move the story forward or make us laugh. Worst of all, the movie doesn't even look as visually stimulating as you might imagine despite the level of attractiveness on display and the tropical locations. Baywatch is a mess from start to finish and that's without me having mentioned that if you're going for nothing more than some mindless laughs then to just go ahead and watch the red band trailer-they're all there.