I’ve never watched the original “Baywatch” when it was on television, but I do clearly remember it topping TV Guide’s “50 Worst Television Shows Ever” list from when I was a child, and knowing that makes it hard to kick. Even when this reboot was announced, I still couldn’t seem to drop the fact that they were adapting what is somewhat known as the “Worst Show of All Time,” even if they were adapting it into an R-rated comedy. Yet, it’s relatively difficult to resist a movie with Dwayne Johnson at the center of it. However stupid something might be, Johnson has a wonderful way of injecting an insane amount of charm and humor into it that wouldn’t have been there before otherwise. Still, there was a certain thing about “Baywatch” that just didn’t particularly excite me, and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Even now, I still can’t put my finger on it, but having seen “Baywatch,” it’s clear that I wasn’t completely wrong in my trepidation, even if it isn’t a complete failure.
Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) is the head lifeguard for the Emerald Bay beach in Florida. Known far-and-wide by the locals as the best lifeguard around and an all-around good man, Buchannon is irked by the forced hiring of Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron), who is serving his community service as a lifeguard. When an affable new neighbor, Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), begins to showcase suspicious behavior, especially following an influx of the drug Flakka (an enhanced version of bath salts) on the beach, Buchannon, Brody, and the rest of the Baywatch team including Summer (Alexandra Daddario), Ronnie (Jon Bass), C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), must get to the bottom of this beachside mystery before it’s too late.
First things first: “Baywatch” is a likable film in and of itself. The charm of its cast and the sheer cloying ridiculousness of the film make for a tone that’s much more easygoing than most films in theaters now. But the biggest issue with “Baywatch” is that it doesn’t often capitalize on its likability into anything of substance. Sure, the film has some laughs, but not as many as you would expect from a film like this, especially a film that goes for so many laughs but only pulls a few off. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t “Snatched” by any means, but it’s definitely isn’t “Bridesmaids” either. If anything, I think “Baywatch” could’ve been more charming had the film played it a bit more seriously, merely winking to the camera rather than clearly making its jokes super apparent and with a lack of subtlety.
That being said, the strongest element of “Baywatch” comes in its cast. Like always, Johnson is a likable, charming, muscle monster with a heart of gold, and it frankly is never tiring to see him play this role, as it’s so pleasant and inoffensive. Efron is fine as Brody, but I frankly don’t see the comedic potential in him that so many movie studios seem to see in him. Bass, while his character is a bit abrasive, is charming enough to balance a less-smooth side to Johnson’s charm. Daddario, Rohrbach and Hadera are all quite good in their roles, even if they aren’t given much comedic material to actually work with. But the one performance in the film that I loved was that of Chopra’s. Known for her typical protagonist roles, Chopra’s turn to the dark side was as fabulous as it was intimidating. A sign of a good villain is that the audience is conflicted about which side to like, which is all thanks to Chopra’s magnetic performance. In fact, at one point in the film, the audience I saw the film with cheered at a line of hers against a protagonist, which has never happened before in a film I’ve seen.
When there isn’t comedy in “Baywatch,” it’s action, which unfortunately doesn’t really work all that well either. With a heavy reliance on CGI, the action in the film often comes across as incredibly fake looking, which might’ve worked had the film been more self-aware, but ends up just looking cheap from what appears to be a lack of finesse. This pretty much makes the film inaccessible for anyone who might not be all that up on the comedy of “Baywatch,” leaving not much in its wake to enjoy. Luckily, I did my best to justify it, until I couldn’t.
“Baywatch” isn’t a complete disaster of a film, but it’s one that doesn’t capitalize on any of the charm that it holds in itself. Johnson is a charming as ever and even Efron does admirable work here, but “Baywatch” relies way too much on its premise being funny as is, then injecting a plethora of cheap jokes into the mix simply to make the film more obviously a comedy than it already is. The issue with this is that not much of it is particularly funny. There are chuckles throughout, but “Baywatch” never made me once laugh out loud, and with films like “Bridesmaids” and “Spy” being able to make me cackle and nearly roll into the aisles from its humor, “Baywatch” has no real excuse to not at least give me half of that.
Directed by: Seth Gordon
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Jon Bass, Hannibal Buress, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfanesh Hadera, with Pamela Anderson, and David Hasselhoff.
Runtime: 117 minutes
Rating: R for language throughout, crude sexual content and graphic nudity.
Also available in Dolby Cinema exclusively at Concord Mills.
Paramount Pictures and Uncharted present, a Montecito Picture Company/FlynnPictureCo./Freemantle Productions production, a Seth Gordon film, “Baywatch”