Beaches ain’t ready
Based on the popular, long-running ’90s television show of the same name — one that launched the careers of model-turned-actress Pamela Anderson and Carmen Electra, along with the lesser-known Yasmine Bleeth — Baywatch is the latest throwback sensation to splash into cinemas, the entire cast and crew of this big screen Hollywood reboot trying devilishly hard to emulate the irreverent action-comedy vibe of 21 Jump Street (2012), along with its excellent successor, 22 Jump Street (2014).
To get it out of the way, Baywatch doesn’t exactly live up to its cheeky promos/ poster art, which, by the way, I think are sheer genius — especially the ‘Summer is Coming’ stuff. Sadly, the movie itself, despite a handful of virtues, struggles to say afloat, this party due to a convoluted storyline and a string of ‘dead on scene’ gags — honestly, I was rooting for this one to be awesome! It also doesn’t help that the majority of female characters are reduced to mere eye candy — we’re not in 1989 anymore, guys? Women can be both smart and sexy! But hey, it’s not a total wipe out, as Baywatch — knowing full well what it wants to be — embraces its campy identity, the film, while clunky and uneven, a tongue-in-cheek version of its small screen self, one that constantly pokes fun at its own silliness (since when do lifeguards dabble in police work?) whilst serving up enough slo-mo beach running, buff bods and skimpy swimwear to satisfy (well, sort of).
Trading Malibu, California, for Emerald Bay, Florida, the story follows Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), the overzealous leader of an elite Broward County lifeguard squad known as Baywatch — now here’s a man who takes his job (and team) far too seriously. Mitch’s world, however, is rocked to its very core when he’s forced to enlist Matt Brody (Zac Efron), an arrogant washed-up Olympic Gold medalist, as the new face of ‘Baywatch,’ this young gun brought in to restore the sinking brand, a PR stunt set in motion by Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel), the group’s supervisor. While the no-nonsense Buchannon and the rambunctious upstart initially butt heads (and pecs), the two are forced to put their petty ‘macho man’ rivalry aside when a dead body is discovered in their precinct — the seaside! Now, to protect the bay, Mitch and Brody — along with their team of highly sexed lifesavers — must become the defenders of the sand and surf, their investigation leading them to a drug smuggling operation headed by suspected criminal ‘big fish’ Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), who happens to be the new owner of the high-status beachfront resort, the Huntley Club.
Those who grew up on the Baywatch series (which aired for a whopping eleven years) will instantly notice that this revival is far raunchier than its TV counterpart; it’s high on flesh, sexual innuendo, violence and f-bombs, the film, containing enough skin to treat a ward of burn victims, earning its hard R rating. And being Baywatch, there’s no shortage of bikini-clad beauties and chiseled torsos, the flick’s stars showing off their stunningly sculptured physiques — it’s no wonder the movie’s been dubbed ‘Bea Watch’ by some of its leading lads and lasses. Yes, it’s pleasing to gaze at boobs and butts for two-or-so hours, but like a majority of (intelligent) moviegoers I prefer my ‘cleavage’ to come with a cohesive plot and, in this department, Baywatch flounders. Penned by Friday the 13th (2009) scribes Damian Shannon and Mark Swift — and based on a story by four (yes, four) other writers — Baywatch is a muddled mess, the narrative far too ‘fiddly’ to follow; everyone involved seems more concerned with improv rather than, umm, crafting an engaging, watertight story, or characters the audience will actually care about. Needless to say, I never expected to see a full-frontal wiener in a Baywatch flick and no ‘flashing of hooters.’
Helmed by Seth Gordon, Horrible Bosses (2011), Baywatch is flooded with ‘limp’ dick jokes (aimed at the lowest common denominator) and a riptide of unfunny larks, all of which may test viewers’ gag reflex (in more ways than one) — admittedly, a running quip that sees Johnson mock Efron’s boyband exterior does hit the mark. Fortunately, the picture’s captain does everything he can to try and resuscitate the franchise, the folks behind the lens presenting us with some slicked-up visuals, these boosted by a bouncy score by composer Christopher Lennertz, Sausage Party (2016), the flick culminating in a cool ‘Baywatch Nights’ type climax that literally lights up the sky — this third act a bit of a savior, even if conflicting with the jokey tone.
Bringing back iconic characters from the much-loved telly program — created by Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz and Gregory J. Bonann — Baywatch coats along thanks to the mildly amusing push-pull dynamic of its muscle-flexing front men, the charismatic Dwayne Johnson, Central Intelligence (2016), and his hard-bodied, beach-ready co-star, an abs-olutely ripped Zac Efron, Neighbors (2014) — who’ve been promoting the shit out of Baywatch via their respective social media pages. While Johnson is ‘solid’ as by-the-book Baywatch honcho Buchannon, and Efron impeccably cast as hothead Brody, the disgraced pro athlete, none of these guys are career comedians, meaning that a lot of their ad-lib clumsily belly flops. Had the screenplay been sharper and tighter (just like Efron’s six-pack), I’m sure the duo would’ve been able to swimmingly strut their comedic chops, hitting the water with the right amount of finesse and flair. Hence, the laugh factor is quite patchy, with lame and lowly set pieces punctuating the over-long romp, a drawn out sequence that sees the pudgy Ronnie Greenbaum get his beans and frank stuck in a sunbed ranking as an embarrassing low (right at the get-go, too). On Ronnie, actor Jon Bass, All Nighter (2017), is in serious need of rescuing as the unfunny horndog, who, for reasons unknown, is signed-up to be part of the ‘dysfunctional’ unit.
As for the female cast, it’s clear they’ve been selected based solely on how ‘hot’ they fare in a swimsuit, these glamor girls more or less beach bunnies with little personality, each of the heroines very much interchangeable. We have new recruit Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), a skilled surfer chick whose character only exists to give Brody an ‘object’ to lust after, her biggest bit of ‘action,’ getting audiences to stop gawking at her jiggling breasts (please!). Then there’s blonde bombshell C.J. Parker, a role made famous by Pammy Lee (played here by Sports Illustrated regular Kelly Rohrbach), this sensual, Lycra-clad lifesaver worshiped by an ogling Ronnie, the two somehow hooking up by the film’s end (talk about implausible). And let’s not forget Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), Baywatch’s second in command, who kinda-sorta works as Mitch’s ‘gal pal.’ So, why does each of these ladies need to be tied to a man?
At least Bollywood starlet Priyanka Chopra, Don (2006), does a passable job as villainess Victoria Leeds, a nefarious drug trafficking real estate entrepreneur; granted, her motivations (and clothing) are pretty much non-existent, the character awfully under-used. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for a couple of uninspired cameos by former Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson Lee, who’d previously bagged the film out (yikes) — the washed-up ex-Playboy centerfold making snarky comments like, ‘no one appreciates the remakes’ — and the Hoff himself, David Hasselhoff, whose recent appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) was far more inventive.
What proceedings lack in ‘substance,’ they make up for with sheer energy, the on and off screen talent clearly out to give patrons a frolicking good time — it’s a shame, then, that Baywatch turns out to be a bit of a bust, the flick treading water for its quasi-two-hour duration. Pure sex appeal just ain’t enough to save this one! Ultimately, Baywatch won’t drown you with boredom, but it may very well leave you gasping for air.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by S-Littner
Baywatch is released through Paramount Pictures Australia