Directed by Seth Gordon Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Jon Bass, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera
Film Review by Kieran Freemantle
Baywatch was one of the quintessential TV shows of the 90s, lasting 11 seasons, two spin-off shows and helped make actresses like Pamela Anderson and Yasmine Bleeth into stars. And like many shows from the '80s and '90s, Hollywood has turned it into a big budget film. Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) is the adored head lifeguard on Emerald Bay, saving lives on a daily basis. When it comes to tryouts for three new members of the Baywatch team, Mitch is told he has to recruit Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced Olympic swimming star and a man that Mitch takes an instant dislike to. Along with their macho squabbling, Mitch also suspects that a club owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) is smuggling drugs into the bay and the lifeguard sets out to investigate despite this being an issue for the police. The Baywatch film is a case of filmmaking by accountancy. Executives at Paramount were clearly influenced by the success of the 21 Jump Street film series - which turned a silly police procedural show that took itself too seriously - and satirised its own premise.
The Baywatch producers wanted to do the same with their film adaptation. The film has two bankable stars and the villain was played by a big star in Bollywood/former Miss World. The movie was even produced by two Chinese companies. Johnson and his amazing pecs are red hot right now and his ego was stroked heavily in the introduction as the public thank and praise him for his service. Johnson is an ever likeable presence and he has an air of Dr. Cox from Scrubs about him: Mitch is basically made out to be an Adonis of a man and like Dr. Cox who called J.D. a variety of girls’ names, Mitch calls Brody names ranging from ‘One Direction’ to ‘Bieber’. Efron earned a lot of praise a few years ago when he starred as the antagonist role in Bad Neighbours and ever since he has starred in a number of comedies with ever diminishing returns. Since his role in Bad Neighbours, Efron has been playing the same type; a party boy who has to learn to be more selfless and grow up. It's getting tiresome and he needs to try other roles especially since his comedy films are making less and less money. The film relied on Brody's level of intelligence changing depending on the comedic circumstance: sometimes he's the smartest guy in the room saying the lifeguards should call the police, other times he is thick as a brick. The greatest strength of Baywatch is the banter between characters, particularly Johnson and Efron and Johnson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II - playing a beat cop who clashes with the Baywatch team. These were witty exchanges that raise a chuckle and allow for some self-referential humour about the ridiculousness of the premise. The film needed more of this because the cast having chemistry, and the self-referential humour, are the parts that Baywatch stole from 21 Jump Street that worked the best.
Watch the official Movie Trailer for the film above.
Baywatch does fall into the trap of many Hollywood R-rated comedies - relying too much on swearing and sex jokes. There are two major jokes involving male bits - because as we all know the penis is the funniest part of the human anatomy. There are also a few boob and vomit jokes thrown into the mix as well as a fair amount of cringe humour which the new nerdy member of the team, Ronnie (Jon Bass) provides. The real issue with Baywatch is its pacing or lack of it. It is basically a 90-minute story stretched to two hours. This needed to be a fast joke and a plot but it struggles to get going story wise. The first part of the film was more focused on Mitch and Brody trying to one-up each other in the Baywatch equivalent of the World’s Strongest Man competition and when the Baywatch finally decide to investigate Leeds and her club it is treated as a fun jaunt instead of having any urgency. At least with 21 Jump Street, there was some peril and mystery in the story. Chopra looked great but she was a bland villain mainly due to the fact she played her role straight and fairly low key. In recent years there has been a glut of R-rated comedies and many are indistinguishable from each other - it has been the staple of some comedians' careers. Whilst Baywatch has been bashed by critics it is far from the worst the sub-genre has to offer thanks to the power of its leading man. The audience was much more receptive than the film critics were.