Director: Seth Gordon
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Jon Bass, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra, Ilfenesh Hadera, Yahya Abdul-Mateen III, Rob Huebel, Hannibal Buress, Amin Joseph, Jack Kesy, Oscar Nuñez, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson
MPAA Rating: (for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity)
Running Time: 1:56
Release Date: 5/25/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | May 25, 2017
The central joke of Baywatch is that a group of lifeguards doing the job of the police is dumb. That also happens to be the movie's premise, although without the self-awareness that the idea is dumb. One would suspect that, at some point in the making of the movie, the filmmakers lost their way. This might be too generous, though. The suspicion assumes that anyone involved in the movie knew what they trying to do with the material.
This isn't a parody of the television show of the same name, but it's definitely one that recognizes that the show, which ran on syndicated television for the entirety of the 1990s, was silly. We know this because the characters repeatedly tell us that. The lifeguard crew's new guy, for example, says that the team's propensity for solving crimes and taking down criminals sounds like something out of a "far-fetched but very entertaining TV show from the '90s." Two-thirds of that quoted observation is objectively factual. The "but very entertaining" part is, perhaps, how the screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift goes wrong.
There's room to mock the material, even if the most common joke that the TV series inspired quickly became old hat. That joke, of course, was at the expense of the show's love of slow-motion running. This movie makes fun of that cliché at least three times. Twice, the joke is that characters point out that another character is moving in slow-motion, and the third time, a character trips to the ground while the rest of the team keeps running.
Shannon, Swift, and director Seth Gordon had to have known that the slow-motion gag was run into the ground over two decades ago. Since it's safe to presume their knowledge of that fact, we can deduce two possible conclusions about their approach: 1.) They're assuming that the audience will be familiar with "Baywatch" but somehow unaware of the jokes about the show that have come before this movie, or 2.) the filmmakers have taken the laziest possible approach to the material. The first option means the filmmakers assume the worst about the audience, while the second option assumes the worst about the filmmakers. When attempting to think of a third option, I immediately try to think of a reason to put any effort into coming up with one.
The team of lifeguards is led by Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson). His partners in life-saving/crime-stopping are CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera). The annual tryouts for this elite group provide three new recruits: Matt Brody (Zac Efron), Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), and Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass).
One will notice that there are no descriptions accompanying any of the characters. That's partly because any descriptions of the women would be relegated to their swimwear, which is apparently the only character development the movie believes they deserve (apart from each of them being a possible romantic interest for one of the men, obviously). As for the men, Mitch is the Dwayne Johnson-like action hero, and Ronnie is the out-of-shape nerd with a massive crush on CJ (The movie cements this fact by having the entirety of Ronnie's standing-at-attention genitalia become wedged in a wooden bench). Matt is a disgraced Olympic swimmer who vomited his way through a race.
In case it isn't clear yet, the movie's humor alternates between the two obvious jokes about how dumb the show was and a handful of sub-standard gross-out gags involving private parts, bodily functions, and a couple of biological fluids. We get the wedged erection, the voluminous vomit, and a scene in a morgue that provides a twofer: the all-business Mitch dropping his sole, defining characteristic to prank Matt into fondling a dead man's scrotum and Matt getting his face covered in a corpse's dripping fat.
Oddly, the jokes are of secondary concern to the movie. Despite the jabs at the TV show, there's a strange attempt to take a good portion of this material seriously. The movie's rescue and action sequences are played straight (even though the visual effects have that from-the-1990s vibe), and the plot, in which a villainous real-estate developer (played by Priyanka Chopra) is trying to take over the area through bribes and drugs and murder, is an excuse to justify the lifeguard's extralegal methods.
Essentially, Baywatch doesn't know whether it wants to be satirical or sincere. It splits the difference without a set goal in mind, making it a neutered comedy and a straightforward adaptation that's as dumb as it says its source material was.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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