In its prime, Baywatch was one of the most popular TV series in the world. This was primarily because pretty people in swimsuits don't require much translation. The idea that the series would receive a big screen adaptation is not a surprise. The version that we got, however, may be for some people. It's hard to imagine exactly who this big screen adaptation of Baywatch is actually designed to appeal to. Actual fans of the popular 90s TV show are not the likely audience because the film assumes that the source material is too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Thus the shift from the action/drama of the series to the raunchy R-rated comedy that is this version. Baywatch certainly has the requisite number of pretty people in swimsuits, and while that might have been enough for an hour long TV episode to get by, the feature film version finds itself lost at sea.
Dwayne Johnson plays Mitch Buchanan, the leader of a group of Southern California lifeguards called Baywatch. The group is holding an open tryout for three new members and Matt Brody (Zac Efron) a former Olympic gold medal swimmer (in individual events only, because he does not play well with others) arrives to join the team as part of his community service for an undisclosed legal infraction. Brody thinks his skills should put him on the team immediately but Mitch expects him to try out anyway. Eventually, pressure from above forces Mitch to take on Brody, while two others, Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) also join up. Skills are immediately put to the test, however, when the owner of a local beach club, Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), is suspected of dealing drugs on the beach, and the Baywatch team begins its own investigation.
If that sounds like it's a plot ripped directly from the television show, that's because it's supposed to. In this case, however, the reason it does is because that's part of the joke. You see, as our characters proceed to investigate the drug trafficking going on while doing almost nothing that lifeguards actually do, every non-lifeguard character in the film makes sure to point that out to them for the duration of the story. It would be a funny enough running gag, or if, at any point, any character realized there might be some truth in the statement, but the film wants the audience to take the main plot seriously, and these two things continually conflict with each other. Every time you might start to get invested in the story, the movie stops to tell you how ridiculous it is that lifeguards are the ones involved in it.
And it's too bad, because the couple of lifesaving action sequences that Baywatch actually does have aren't bad. They're good enough to wonder how a Baywatch movie might have turned out if they played it straight. I'm not saying it would have been any better, but I'm certainly not convinced it would have been any worse.
Instead, we're treated to the two-man comedy showcase of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. To be fair, the pair have solid chemistry. Johnson is always fun to watch, and that is no less the case here. Efron has been doing the R-rated comedy thing for a while now, and he's certainly got it figured out. The pair will almost certainly make you laugh in spite of yourself.
I would love to talk more about the supporting cast. Unfortunately, none of them are in the movie enough. Each supporting character shows up when necessary and vanishes without a trace when not. Maybe they're actually working as lifeguards? Alexandra Daddario's character feels like she had a backstory in an earlier version of the film that was cut in post. Jon Bass's infatuation with Kelly Rohrback's C.J. Parker is paint by numbers predictable, though remarkably PG-13 considering the rest of the movie. Priyanka Chopra is the paper thin villain that you'd expect in an episode of a TV show with a 42-minute runtime. In a two-hour movie, it's not enough.
Baywatch certainly has its share of jokes and if your sense of humor finds the word "ballsack" to be endlessly funny, then there will be plenty to keep you smiling until the credits role. Otherwise, it's summertime. Try the actual beach.
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By Mike Reyes
By Mike Reyes
By Dirk Libbey