Hollywood unleashes another ironic version of a TV “favourite” with this vehicle for The Rock. Richard argues it might be worth your time.
To begin, I would like to make two bold and seemingly conflicting statements. Firstly, Baywatch is a terrible movie, and secondly, Baywatch is underrated. Now, I would usually choose one such statement as the main focal point of a review, and through technical and analytical means, justify this position, but I don’t think this is the appropriate course to take in regards to Baywatch, much in the same way I would never take the phone-recorded performance of a third grader’s rendition of Cat in the Hat and submit it to any form of critical review. Baywatch does not distinguish itself by its depth or its talent; their appearance in the film is relegated to something of a cameo status. And yet, like an excitable and overly-muscled puppy that wants nothing more than a scratch behind the ear even though it has left a mess on the carpet, this film is in many ways undeniably likable.
Now, to be clear, I entered this film with the expectation to hate it. I wanted to hate it from the top of its bouncing slow-motion cleavage down to the bottom of its nostalgia-pandering sandals. But the simple truth is that Dwayne Johnson is too much fun to watch and has so very clearly given this film so much import. His personality infuses the film as a whole and lightens up every moment of his screentime with a larger-than-life bravado and huge smile, which does so much to distract us from the juvenile jokes and utterly ridiculous plot; I’m surprised they didn’t find a way to include him in every single scene.
Johnson is Mitch Buchanan. He is the leader of the Baywatch, a motley gang of attractive people (with one somewhat portly comedy exception) tasked with protecting the Bay in the most ridiculous ways possible. Thrown into this is the disgraced Olympic swimmer Matt Brody, as played by a gloriously douchey Zac Efron, who is channelling actual American Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte as hard as he can. While the film at irregular intervals seems to be giving Efron a meaningful character arc, it is Johnson who steers the ship with Efron as his humorous cabin boy who is funniest when being a roaring narcissistic a-hole. I’d also like to point out that whatever this film and its TV predecessor may have to do with “the male gaze,” someone clearly asked Efron’s personal trainer to do their bit to even the score.
The rest of the cast is funny if just a little forgettable. Poor Jon Bass as the film’s unashamed “fat spice” really does take the brunt of the movie’s more childish antics, but it thankfully at no point feels truly mean-spirited. The only times it actually does feel mean is in regards to Efron and, truth be told, he really does play a douche well enough to make that completely okay. Alexandra Daddario, Ilfenesh Hadera and Kelly Rohrbach as the beach beauties are all more than just pretty faces, but really aren’t given much to do and the film really is the lesser for it. The plot is beyond hope and not the reason anyone is going to buy a ticket, so it’s not worth the mention. There’s swimming, there’s slow-motion, there’s gun battles, and there’s even a dead councilman’s uncovered penis. Don’t ask.
This is the rare film where every critical bone in my body was screaming for blood and yet I just couldn’t stop laughing. If Baywatch were a boat, it would be an old trawler that was taking on water, with all the maps the wrong way round, its name misspelled on the side, old nudie pictures hanging on every wall, and sailing straight into a storm that no-one onboard had noticed. But standing at the helm would be Dwayne Johnson smiling like a preschooler, who was just given a lifetime’s supply of chocolate. Sunning himself on the deck would be Zac Efron counting his abs. Now that may not be a ship I ever want to sail on, but I can’t say I’d want it to sink.