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Baywatch (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 13, 2023



Starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra, Jon Bass, Iifenesh Hadera, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, Amin Joseph, Jack Kesy, Oscar Nuñez, Clem Cheung, Charlotte McKinney, Izabel Goulart, David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson.

Screenplay by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift.

Directed by Seth Gordon.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 119 minutes. Rated R.

For a television series that lasted a shockingly long 11 years on the air (13 if you count the spin-off Baywatch Hawaii), you almost never hear anyone getting all gooey and nostalgic about Baywatch. Cable stations do not have Baywatch marathons. There are not huge fan communities, or conventions. In fact, Baywatch barely has a pop cultural footprint at all. No one ever took its cheesy storyline seriously – a bunch of gorgeous lifeguards in tight body suits solving crimes in Malibu. Nowadays if the series gets mentioned at all, it’s normally about the real-life problems of former stars David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson.

Therefore, it seems an odd choice to get a big-screen reboot. And yet, here we are, at the Baywatch movie.

Baywatch is obviously trying to be a snarky postmodern wink at a cheesy original, which can be extremely entertaining if done right (The Brady Bunch Movie, 21 Jump Street), but can be deadly if done poorly (Starsky & Hutch, The A-Team, Charlie’s Angels, Dark Shadows, The Dukes of Hazzard and way too many more to list).

Strangely, Baywatch the movie downplays the series’ main raison d’être; cheesy sexploitation shots of a bunch of Playboy-model-hot lifeguards running and jiggling on the beach in tight spandex bathing suits. Sure, the four main female actresses here are all stunning, and they all wear their share of tight or revealing outfits. And yes, there is some chuckleheaded sexual humor in the movie. However, all in all, the T&A is rather subdued here.

This makes a certain sense, because in the new millennium people do not need to watch something like Baywatch to get a little cheap-thrill titillation anymore. In the 90s, Baywatch was the only game in town for a little harmless jiggle entertainment. Now, it’s all readily available, and much more explicitly, on the internet.

So, what, if anything, does Baywatch have to offer in the modern world?

Probably not much at all. Yet, surprisingly, in its own silly way, Baywatch is a fairly entertaining film. Not a good film particularly, but sometimes it is very funny.

Much of the enjoyment factor lays squarely on the broad shoulders of star Dwayne (The Artist Formerly Known as The Rock) Johnson. It’s hard to believe with his history as a professional wrestler, but Johnson has become a very capable light comic actor. He’s smart, funny and in on the joke. He has gained the ability to take mediocre material – like Baywatch – and juice it for all that is there. Without Johnson on board, Baywatch would not be nearly as bearable as it is.

Co-star Zac Efron is fine, too, though not given nearly as interesting a character. Written as a Ryan Lochte-light bad boy Olympian on the skids, the movie can’t seem to decide whether he is supposed to be a stupid pretty boy or a smart pretty boy, so he can’t totally commit to either side of the character. Also, in passing the character is given a tragic backstory that makes it a little more uncomfortable for the audience to simply dismiss and mock him.

As in the series, the female characters are not given nearly as much to work with, they are one-dimensional sex objects. Which is kind of a shame, Alexandra Daddario has a sweet and offbeat charm which is rather squandered by giving her nothing to do but fend off Zac Efron’s come-ons (until, of course, she doesn’t anymore). Model Kelly Rohrbach also has a goofy seductiveness which is squandered in the clichéd role of the hot chick who somehow falls for the nerdy guy.

At least those two have something to do, Iifenesh Hadera is just there to take part in action scenes, and perhaps so that the audience thinks that the Rock could get laid, too, if he really wants to. And Priyanka Chopra as the villainess is gorgeous, but her character is so blatantly evil that it comes off as cartoonish.

The generic adventure and mystery scenes about Chopra’s character and drugs seem lifted directly from 21 Jump Street. They eventually bog everything down, virtually erasing whatever ironic good humor the film had been able to muster.

Baywatch works much better in the early scenes, which revolve around the myth of Baywatch, a bunch of gorgeous lifeguards who are godlike and worshipped for their abilities to save lives.

Essentially, Baywatch is a choppy sea, but it has enough gnarly waves to make it worth a hang ten.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: May 25, 2017.

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