Hollywood has been relentlessly trying to adapt TV programs to film form since the early 2000s, with solid hits like Mission: Impossible or 21 Jump Street, or style-over-substance misses like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or Dark Shadows. The 90s Baywatch series, starring David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, has potential to become a campy and enjoyable summer flick, but the movie version never figures out its own voice. Director Seth Gordon laid out the unbearable and ludicrous dialogues to its two-hour runtime, resulting in a jumble of vulgarity, unnecessary violence, and tasteless laughs.
Baywatch opens with a feat of finesse from Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), head of the elite lifeguard division in Emerald Bay, Florida. He loves his job. Everyone in the area worships his sculpture-like torso and his dedication to keeping them safe. Then one day comes the disgraced two-time Olympic winner Matt Brody (Zack Efron), assigned to a position in Mitch’s team by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel). Because of Matt’s arrogance, Mitch doesn’t approve of this arrangement, but under the pressure from Thorpe, Matt joins Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and Ron (Jon Bass) as the new member of Baywatch, alongside with veterans CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera). Oh, there’s also a drug-dealing scheme involved.
Just in case cartoonish show-offs would sabotage the overuse of F-words, Baywatch—written by six people (some of them wrote Reno 911, others horror remakes)—included several brutal deaths. It tries so hard to recreate the success of 21 Jump Street, but preposterous subplots clog up in Mitch’s investigation about drug washed up on the shore. The first two acts make for messy hodgepodges of unrelated scenes, edited with a profound hatred for filmmaking. Until the plot tries to be more serious than just a saucy showcase of cheesecake and beefcake (by adding undercover works and tons of violence), it’s obvious Baywatch can neither balance out the tone nor keep track on the plot. Obscene bathos hinders the pacing—even The Rock can’t elevate any levity.
In fact, the actuality of this movie is an abominable joke per se. It takes indecency as a privilege and wears that badge of comedic atrocity with a pride. Loaded with over-the-top comedy, every scene plays out like the first five minutes of a Disney sitcom, plus the staggering amount of swearing. The only time I could laugh is a Spongebob quote, and another good gag is about the Mitch figure in his fish tank. That’s it. The rest is a clutter of raunchy, thoughtless collection of cringeworthy genital jokes, which overstay their welcome then end in bad taste. The negativity is wrapped up with shabby production value; bad CG explosions apparently suffered from payments for the cast. The pursuits are fun because their intensity and ridiculousness combine well, but generic melee fights miss a chance to promote The Rock’s appeal.
In interviews, the cast talked about how the skin-showing and slo-mo were important in comparison with the plot, which pinpoints the problem in these stock characters. The Rock’s star power brought little to this character, who fully commits to his profession. He has a spark of romance with Stephanie, but their shared moment is only another reason to retire the fake-kissing trope. Bitter and lame, the movie touches too lightly upon Matt’s past issues. Instead, hyperbolic characterization and Efron’s rigorous training gives us an epitome of bro culture—flirtatious, boorish and self-entitled. His loss to Mitch in their contest of glorified machismo and the first failed mission both have no clear impact on character—not that the movie focused on other characters’ feelings anyway. The boys are bound to shape a buddy cop dynamic, but their relationship handles too few initial conflicts and contradictions. To pick on Matt, Mitch has tons of name-calling reserved for this kind of brotherhood, but his series of jokes evaporates into rude remarks, except for High School Musical and Malibu Kent.
Female characters, though more cordial and responsible, are one-note sidekicks put to use in episodic exhibitions of the body. Summer has several lines to show her expertise in marine biology, but she’s overall a downer, trading smutty banter and playing hard to get with Matt’s hopeless conquer. CJ and Ron come together as a couple of lousy romance out of the cliché guidebook. Amongst lengthy scenes we must bear with them, the one where Ron’s erected thingamabob gets stuck in the chair is the most memorable—not for its humor or performance but because it’s stretched out for five minutes. The villainess Victoria Leeds by Priyanka Chopra is a worn-out caricature of antagonism. Despite Chopra’s elegance, this bland Bond-villain-wannabe only displays ruthless violence with her subjects and dominance over subordinates.
Baywatch has comedic aptitude from the premise about lifeguards acting like cops (because the beach is their turf). Interwoven with the amateur crime-solving might have been delightful quips and mischiefs, but instead of such an affable approach, it dispersed the slim, aimless plotline with crass and helter-skelter humor. Just let them watch their bay, don’t bother to watch them.
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