Movie Review: “Baywatch” – Swim, Sink, Drown

Written by Jeremiah Greville June 01, 2017

Baywatch 2017

I know that there was something about drugs in the new Baywatch movie, but it’s hard to remember over all of the sex. Not actual sex, mind you — there’s none of that here. No, I’m talking about the ever-present and looming hyper-charged sexual atmosphere throughout. Baywatch, the TV series, was about how much you wanted to bang the actors and characters. Baywatch, the movie, is about how much the characters want to bang each other. Well that, and Zac Efron trying to emote through vascularity. If abs could talk, then his would scream.

Baywatch stars Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as Mitch Buchannon, the leader of an elite lifeguard unit known as…Baywatch. There you go. It co-stars Zac Efron as Matt Brody, a disgraced former Olympic swimmer who joins Baywatch as part of a PR effort. Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesh Hadera star as the three interchangeably attractive female members of the team. And rounding out the main cast is Jon Bass as the chubby, lovable new Baywatch recruit, and Priyanka Chopra as the villain. The plot? You already know it. Baywatch is sexy. Baywatch fights the villain. And Baywatch saves the day. It’s an action-comedy, and it doesn’t break the mould.

“Turn in your trunks, Mitch.”

While I don’t think Baywatch is overtly sexist, it’s a shame how interchangeable and threadbare the female characters are because the actresses, especially Rohrbach as C.J., bring a lot to what little material they’re given. Hadera’s character in particular, Stephanie, has almost no story whatsoever — and she’s on the poster! Some lip service is paid to her being the second-in-command, but that’s it. She doesn’t even get to say it. Meanwhile there’s an entire subplot devoted to Ronnie’s (Jon Bass) obsession with C.J.. That obsession, and the inevitable conclusion, form most of Ronnie’s character development. C.J. barely gets to be a character on her own, yet the movie wastes no opportunity to sexualize Rohrbach or linger on every angle of her body. Thing is, we expect this from a Baywatch movie. It would just be nice if the script gave the female characters as much attention as the camera does.

Baywatch 2017

Not only is the Ronnie/C.J. subplot out of place, but Jon Bass is neither likeable enough nor funny enough to play the likeable, funny everyman. However, he fares better than Priyanka Chopra as the villainous Victoria Leeds. Her annoying whisper dialogue and lifeless line delivery drive the movie to a halt every time she’s on screen. Daddario is perfectly fine as Summer, but outside of spurning Efron’s advances, she’s got nothing to do. And Efron, as the co-lead, is probably the most off-putting of all. He’s pushed his body to lengths few Hollywood stars are even capable of, but can barely move his face because of it. Efron has comedic timing and acting chops, but his muscles actually seem to get in the way. At least Johnson is great. It’s been said before, but The Rock is a charisma machine.

“Mitch, you just blew her up.”

His character, Mitch, was compared at different times to Superman, Batman, and Aquaman all within the first half-hour. Baywatch is an exceedingly silly movie, and Johnson’s Mitch Buchannon — the same role originally played by David Hasselhoff — is the superheroic maestro at the centre. Without him, the movie wouldn’t work at all, and when it does, he’s usually the reason. There are plenty of things in Baywatch that make no sense. Why does every female character’s swimsuit come with a cleavage zipper? Why are they carrying fridges across a beach? While these would be problems in any other movie, here they actually add to the whole. When Baywatch isn’t questioning its own absurdity, it’s revelling in it. When Baywatch is at its best, you accept the silly and move on.

Baywatch 2017

But this brings us to a fundamental problem with Baywatch as a movie: its relationship to the original TV show. Why does this film exist? This movie isn’t for fans of the original, because it spends so much time mocking everything that made the TV series unique. Baywatch 2017 seems less concerned with Baywatch 1991 than it does with the original’s cultural impact. In other words, Baywatch 2017 is for people who’ve never seen the original, but know about its slow-motion beach-running corniness and find that funny enough to buy a ticket. Is that a very big audience? And since this movie only exists to lampoon the TV show, it makes the requisite David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson cameos almost mean-spirited when they occur. Don’t worry — that’s not a spoiler, by the way. Hasselhoff and Anderson are proudly credited right in the opening.

“Mitch?” “Yes, Mitch?”

The other fundamental problem in Baywatch is…sex. Yeah. This is a hyper-sexualized movie with beautiful, half-naked people, but it’s also a strangely sterile film. It’s as sexual as a tantric Sting slumber party, but as sexy as a Sears catalogue underwear section. Even the predictable conclusion of the Ronnie/C.J. storyline skips the good stuff. That’s weird to say, I know, but if you’re planning on seeing this movie for…carnal reasons (ew), it might be better just to skip it. And because of this, we rarely see the group interact even when they’re all together. It’s always Ronnie/C.J., or Summer/C.J., or Summer/Matt, or Matt/Mitch. That’s it — those are the combinations. Hadera’s Stephanie doesn’t even get to play with others. This prevents the team from ever feeling like a real group of people. Do they even know each other?

Baywatch 2017

As for the action and comedy in Baywatch, both are just…okay. The action scenes are played out earnestly, but undermined by terrible CGI and poor editing. And while there are definitely funny moments throughout, they’re rarely memorable, and often grating. One of the scenes from the trailer involves Efron dressing up as a woman. It’s an amusing image for the character, but in the movie the scene is just there. It does nothing. Classic joke structure requires a set up, a premise, and a punchline. Premises like Efron in a dress are great, but Baywatch is very short on set ups, and entirely bereft of punchlines. Luckily, many jokes are saved by the chemistry between Johnson and Efron, but not enough to make the movie worthwhile.

“Don’t follow Mitch’s balls.”

Baywatch wants to be another 21 Jump Street remake, but it lacks the charm, perspective, and relationship to the source material that made 21 Jump Street great. There’s a lot to be said for banking on the inherent likeability of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, but without solid work behind the scenes, that likeability only gets you so far. Despite the weak box office, a sequel could still be on the way. There’s a lot of potential in Baywatch as a comedy franchise, but Baywatch 2017 doesn’t offer much hope for rescue. On the bright side, this might mean more free gym time for Efron. You do you, Zac —just make sure you’re safe, bud.

My Rating: 5.5/10

Baywatch 2017 Poster


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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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