Film Review – Baywatch
The Rock has once again put me in a hard place, man. While never a wrestling fan, even me, ever the simpleton, recognized Dwayne Johnson‘s charisma alongside the rest of the free world once he entered the movie arena. He arguably (or depending on who you ask, single-handedly) reinvigorated the Fast/Fate/Furious franchise and is now well overdue to commandeer his own. It is my sad duty to inform you Baywatch is not that franchise.
Taking a page from the retro-reboot handbook most successfully utilized by 2012’s 21 Jump Street, director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief) sets his sights on Baywatch, an inexplicable staple of 90’s television I’ve never met a real person who’s watched.
Still, having never bothered with the show personally, I feel I have a sense of the basics: Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (Johnson), lifeguard extraordinaire, will do anything in his power to protect his beach. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, thwarting the almighty jellyfish, and ah hell, let’s nip that international drug trafficking thing in the bud while we’re at it.
Johnson’s red suited dream team includes Summer (Alexandra Daddario, True Detective) and Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadara), as well as new recruits CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), Ronnie (Jon Bass) and Matt Brody (Zac Efron). Tensions rise as Brody’s past foibles as a disgraced gold medalist come bubbling to the surface. Much of the first act, in fact, revels in the rivalry between Mitch and Matt to middling effect. It’s not decidedly unfunny to prey on one’s pretty boy persona, but by the ninth One Direction joke (?), you begin to wonder what’s left for the cutting room floor.
And the plot. This stupid, ambling plot. Real estate developer Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra, Quantico), heads an overly-complicated operation ensuring her drugs are smuggled and smuggled good. On its own, the idea of a ragtag group of lifeguards well beyond their jurisdiction targeting a flakka tycoon and her cronies is amusing. Funny even. A running joke reminiscent of the Jump Street franchise even highlights the absurdity of this crew’s devotion. Just as quickly, though, it forgets this take in favor of groan-inducing dick jokes.
The movie isn’t entirely devoid of laughs but Gordon can’t seem to settle on a tone. Whereas 21 Jump Street fully embraced its ridiculousness, Baywatch often gets lost in plotlines presumably no one came out to see in the first place. The action sequences are played laughably straight, despite the unfortunately apparent chintzy effects. Potentially rewarding running jokes like Brody’s complete lack of smarts are forgotten for inexcusable long stretches in favor of needless exposition.
Jon Bass as Ronnie scores the film’s biggest laughs. I’ve seen some comparisons to Josh Gad (whom Bass replaced in Book Of Mormon‘s run) and sure, I guess. Schlub’s gotta schlub. But his earnestness gives us occasional peeks at the movie that could have been.
The female cast, though, is tragically short-shrifted. The original Baywatch is remembered for, like it or not, its bikini-clad eye candy. It seems like a missed opportunity, then, to pay fan service so blandly rather than find a subversive angle.
I’m still rooting for you though, Dwayne. Don’t make me look the fool.