Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario
Director: Seth Gordon
Running Time: 116 mins
Synopsis: An elite team of lifeguards patrol the beaches of the Bay led by the militaristic Mitch Buchannon (Johnson). However he is forced to recruit arrogant party animal Matt Brody (Efron) who causes friction within the team. There is no time for personal problems though when Mitch uncovers a criminal plot that threatens the Bay itself.
Baywatch should have been a slam dunk. Take the early 90s show which most have at least heard of but few can actually really recall any details. Update it to a modern setting. Draw up a slightly ridiculous but played straight story. Throw in some action. Add a few belly laughs delivered by a beautiful and charismatic cast. Easy! Unfortunately this big screen re-do forgets almost all of the above in favour of lame jokes and a rehashed story.
Dwayne Johnson is at least incapable of being unlikable, here starring as man-Hulk Mitch. Treating his job like he’s the Judge, Jury and Executioner of the Bay, he actually calls himself Lieutenant, he is charming and damn cool but rubs up against the real police here represented by Yahya Abdul-Mateen as a sardonic cop. It is a funny idea but grows old real fast, come the 5th time of Mitch acting like a detective only to be shot down by Mateen’s dry delivery (one of the strongest aspects) you can’t help but feel bored. Johnson tries his hardest as the film progresses but constantly flounders at having such dire material. He has always had terrific timing but gets no chance to showcase that here.
There is at least some spiky fun to be had when Efron’s brash Matt Brody comes to the Bay. Recruited due to flagging publicity for the beach and Brody’s community service demands, he instantly winds Mitch up the wrong way. Zac Efron once again adopts his Bad Neighbours persona. Full of braggadocio, a party animal, careless and stupid (although the film cannot decide how stupid he is), all aspects Efron can play in his sleep. There is even the customary moment of him reaching rock bottom then managing to grow as a person, eurgh!! Respite is to be found in the central duos chemistry which is warm and funny, with Johnson’s repeated name calling providing the only flashes of wit.
The rest of the team are all solid performers, rising above the sexual objectification that so easily could have been prevalent with a concept such as this. Don’t get me wrong, everyone looks hot and jiggles spectacularly in slo-mo (guys and gals both), but the writing team behind Freddy Vs Jason (yep) are at least savvy enough to make none of them the token sex object. Kelly Rohrbach comes close, especially as she is the object of affection for the rotund Jon Bass, but even she gets numerous chances to prove how capable she is a lifesaver. Alexandra Daddario is shamefully wasted as second new recruit Summer, a gifted comedy performer who gets a few choice putdowns but gets increasingly sidelined as the movie goes on. Surrounding bit players are average with none of the golden nuggets that films of this ilk usually provide.
No matter what this film tries in order to gift it some energy, including a few solid action beats, there is no escaping the sheer ineptitude of the writing. Jokes are attempted but most fall flatter than a deflating life-raft. Even the crassness is notably tame, with the centrepiece gag around a trapped boner in a deckchair far too mild to be classed as “risque.” The troubling thing is the writers seem desperate to capture the same irreverence and energy as 21 Jump Street, even as far as repeating plot beats (the central drug mystery is an open copy of what that Tatum/Hill classic went for). But whilst director/writer duo Miller/Lord made Jump Street work through a genuine affection for the original show, it appears the writers here have never actually seen an episode of Baywatch. Sure they know what it’s remembered for; the slow-motion running, the sexy cast, the cheesiness, but so would any passing individual who has heard of the name. They don’t understand the mechanics of how the show actually worked, evidence of which is most egregiously felt when Pamela Anderson arrives for a wordless truly pointless cameo that amounts to someone saying “remember her from that show, well she’s here, we have heard of Baywatch!”
Seth Gordon, who also directed Horrible Bosses, gives the film no real verve or personality. Content to let his cast do the work but seemingly far too confident that his script is any good, why else would he let it drag out to almost 2 hrs if he thought it was anything other than high comedy?! He also can be thanked for delivering one of the worst uses of CGI I’ve seen in a while. Johnson and his team facing down a boat fire would have worked a lot better if it didn’t appear that he was standing in an empty room whilst fire is supposedly burning all around him. Although spending 2 hrs bathed in sunshine, hot women, and Johnson’s charismatic smile fills the time, this is one beach you wouldn’t go back to.
Verdict: A comedy film that forgets to bring the comedy. The cast tries, and a giggle may present itself but you’d be better off watching 21 Jump Street again instead.