I never watched “Baywatch”. Not one episode. But, being a kid and teenager in the nineties, it was definitely on my radar. I reached my twenties in the nineties, so it’s not as though I didn’t know who Pamela Anderson was. But, even then, my standards were high enough that I didn’t watch original syndicated scripted programming. No thanks. No “Baywatch”, no “Hercules”, no “Xena” . . . nothing like that for me. Almost all I knew about “Baywatch” was that it starred a number of attractive people and audiences loved to pretend that they hated it and didn’t watch it. Except for me. I really didn’t watch it.
When I saw the trailer for this 2017 film adaptation starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Zac Efron, I was immediately glad that director Seth Gordon and Paramount apparently decided to go the tongue-in-cheek route. Had they presented it straight up as an action-drama (as the show was always marketed), it would have never stood a chance, and I certainly wouldn’t have bothered to see it. As a comedy that appeared to be poking fun at itself, there was potential. And it seemed like the perfect vehicle for the People’s Champion and our next president (#JohnsonHanks2020), the Rock. I deemed it worthy of a chance.
It turns out that the movie takes itself far more seriously than the marketing lets on. Baywatch follows head lifeguard Mitch Buchanan (Johnson) and the new guy on the team, Olympic champion Matt Brody (Efron), as they investigate a criminal organization that has plans to do stereotypical organized crime stuff, which Buchanan is determined to keep far away from his beach.
As I said, I never watched the original show upon which this film is based, but I was never under the impression that it was any sort of crime program. Whether it was or not, the film should not have been. Aside from the lunacy of a bunch of lifeguards taking the law into their own hands (which the film directly addresses, to its credit), it just isn’t what I expect audiences want from Baywatch – and it certainly isn’t what the trailers and television spots communicate as the narrative center of the film. Yes, elements of it were advertised, but it seemed like background noise, playing second fiddle to Brody’s attempts to prove himself worthy to Buchanan. It’s not. The film is a crime drama above all else. The marketing department clearly had a better sense of what this film should be than the filmmakers, themselves.
On top of that, the story is not only ill-conceived, it’s also poorly written. I might have begrudgingly accepted the narrative had it been in any way fresh, compelling, or even logical. There’s one moment in a police officer’s office that might actually be the least-believable thing I’ve ever seen in a movie. Any. Movie. Less believable than Bruce Banner transforming into the Hulk. Less believable than the end of Vacancy (watch it. The end is awful but the rest of it is actually pretty great.). Less believable than Katherine Heigl falling for Seth Rogan. It strains credulity to the point of overly-dramatic eye rolls. And much of the rest of the plot isn’t far behind. If there’s some sort of internal logic within the film that allows that sort of thing – even if it wouldn’t make sense in the real world – then, okay. But there isn’t. It’s just lazy, brainless writing.
What comedy there is almost falls entirely flat. I think I chuckled four times (in two hours – a chuckle every thirty minutes, on average), and never even came close to laughing out loud. Most of it is sophomoric humor devoid of anything resembling wit. There’s an audience for that, but it’s relatively small. I’m okay with virtually any style of humor as long as it’s clever and unpredictable. Instead, Baywatch mostly just serves up crude language and tries to pass it off as comedy.
“Well, Stephen, I hear all that. But I just want to go for the hot girls/guys! I saw that ‘graphic nudity’ warning in the explanation for the MPAA’s rating. That’s all I care about!” Great. Then, you should stay home. The trailer is as sexy as this movie gets. That ‘graphic nudity’ warning is not what you think it is. The sexiness is worth a PG-13 at most (and a soft PG-13, to boot). In fact, the film as a whole does nothing to earn its R-rating. It has plenty of profanity, graphic nudity that’s played for shock factor and comedy (ahem . . . “comedy”), and some violence, but the movie in no way needed to be R-rated, nor does it feel R-rated until someone forces out an f-word.
The film honestly presents as a bait-and-switch on an audience that will be expecting an uproarious, raunchy comedy and will instead receive an uninspired, uninteresting crime movie. I have to say, none of this is the cast’s fault. Each of them does everything they can to make it work – especially Johnson and Jon Bass (Baywatch hopeful Ronnie Greenbaum). I felt bad for the main trio of female lifeguards (Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesh Hadera, playing Summer, C.J., and Stephanie, respectively) because the writing did nothing to differentiate one from the other. As far as the filmmakers are concerned, they play the Brunette, the Blonde, and the Ethnic One. Again, this is not their fault, and they each inject their own quirks into their performances whenever they can. But it truly feels like this was written by someone from a Facebook message board who always thinks that they could make a good film, without ever having even considered what goes into actual filmmaking.
I guess if you’re a diehard fan of any of the cast members, you should still see it. And if you just really love uninteresting, cookie-cutter crime stories or comedies that aren’t funny, then you should also see it. But, I was hoping for something light, bright, and satirical. Instead, I got a carrot on the end of a very long, boring stick.
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