I must confess that my enjoyment of Baywatch more than likely came from two things; the nameless coffee stout I bought at the Arclight bar before the movie started, or from the adrenaline high of watching the Dodgers beat the Cardinals in a thirteen inning psychological duel the night before.
Either way, outside of those two things, I have no excuse. I enjoyed myself. But this is not to say the movie is in anyway really good. It’s dumb, but it knows it’s dumb. It’s cheesy, but it knows it’s cheesy. It may not be the most competent movie but whatever faults it may struggle with have been more than made up for by the heavy lifting of the cast.
This is not 21 Jump Street or even 22 Jump Street. Baywatch is not interested in being that smart, creative, or even that self-aware. The movie, so called, is actually more interested in being an extended episode of Baywatch than a parody of it.
Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) is the head of an elite lifeguard team on a stretch of the fictional beach Emerald Bay in Florida. Mitch and his crew which include Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) patrol the shores and keep the tourists safe. It’s also the time of year where the Emerald Bay Lifeguard crew takes on new recruits.
With their new recruits Summer (Alexandra Daddario), Ronnie (Jon Bass), and Brody ( Zac Efron) the squad goes about saving lives and stopping drug smugglers. Efron’s Brody isn’t so much a new recruit so much as a PR hire. Brody an Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer who’s serving community service of sorts is the brash young rebellious himbo.
Part of problem with Baywatch is the script by committe mixed with improvisational humor.
At almost two hours the movie feels more than a little bloated. If the plot is just there to move the movie along then it should actually move the film along. The villainess Victoria (Priyanka Chopra) as written and as performed is bland and sort of just there to take up space. Which is fine but neither the horde of writers or the director Seth Gordon allow Chopra a chance to play with the role.
While the movie is fine, and that’s all it ever is fine, with a cast this talented it should be leagues better. I admit part of my enjoyment comes from the fact that I’m a heterosexual male and I may or may not be swayed by certain jiggly body parts. Even then though I need more than just basic anatomical physics to recommend a movie.
Side note: If you could afford Dwayne Johnson AND Zac Efron then surely you can afford better green screen effects. We’re in the twenty first century step up your game. Your competition has zombie ghost pirates for crying out loud. You should at least be able to convince me that Efron and Johnson are on a damn boat in the ocean.
Rohrbach’s CJ was actually a competent lifeguard who knows that Ronnie likes her and is in no way a fool of any kind. This was more than what I was expecting. Daddario’s character of Summer more fascinating than Efron’s. Why is she so driven? Why does she want to be on the Emerald Bay lifeguard team so bad? Seriously these ladies need a big screen adaptation of Baywatch Nights stat.
The relationship between Hadera’s Stephanie or Johnson’s Mitch is never really explored to any kind of comedic or dramatic satisfaction. Is it me or is there a pattern with Hollywood presenting Dwayne Johnson as an asexual matinee idol? He rarely has a love interest even when he is the lead. This may be Johnson’s own preference or it could just be institutionalized Hollywood racism.
Dwayne Johnson is just a damn lovable guy. So far nothing he’s done has eclipsed his turn in Central Intelligence but whatever faults this movie has it aint him. Efron continues to prove that he’s more than game to go where he needs to for the laugh. Although it’s odd in a film so diverse the only one with a character arc is the white guy.
There’s a nice little subplot about how the local police Sgt. Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) repeatedly rants about how Mitch and his crew are just lifeguards. That Mitch and his crew should let the police do their job and they do theirs.
There might be some people who think Sgt. Ellerbee is right on the money. So much so it explains why this movie is dumber than dumb and should be skipped. This argument while valid is also deeply silly. This type of criticism seems to fly into a whole genre of stories in which people do things totally outside their realm of experience and expertise. Rosemary and Thyme is a BBC show about two old lady gardeners who solve murders while also rescuing deteriorating gardens. Where would we be if Jessica Fletcher only stuck to writing murder mysteries as opposed to solving them? I can’t fathom a universe where an agoraphobic russian chessmaster who solves crime from the comfort of his luxurious hotel doesn’t exist. (Oh, Endgame you precious beautiful thing you.)
Essentially what I’m saying is yes this movie is stupid, lazy and wholly unbelievable. It’s also effortlessly diverse in its casting. It’s diverse in a way most big budget comedies are not. Despite all this I laughed, enough.
If you see this movie maybe don’t see it sober. I don’t know. I didn’t regret spending my money. I wasn’t bored. I know it’s damning with faint praise but I’m willing to bet it’s probably the best diverse big budget comedy wide release out this weekend.