Synopsis – Devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchannon butts heads with a brash new recruit, as they uncover a criminal plot that threatens the future of the bay.
My Take – Currently ranked as one of the biggest flops of this summer, this R rated action comedy has become a rare miss for its lead super star Dwayne Johnson, but in fairness, I doubt many people were expecting this adaption of 90’s campy US TV series to be good per se, maybe some expected it to be entertaining, something on the levels of the Jump Street films. Running from 1989 to 2001, the original show starring David Hasselhoff, Yasmin Bleeth and Pamela Anderson along with others, was a fun show based on stories revolving around sharks, diamond smugglers, and beach combing thieves, basically show with a mere excuse to show pretty people, especially women in tight bikinis, running around & glamourizing the life of a lifeguard. It wasn’t anything special, and even though the success of the original show didn’t make sense, it remains till date very popular (so much so that people used to call it “Babewatch”, given that a lot of the cast members were former models of Playboy) and is considered an important piece of the 1990’s culture. Here, this Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) directed film aims to pay tribute to the source material yet update this story for a new generation, by turning a terrible idea into a clever, funny, and surprisingly poignant film. Personally, I wasn’t expecting much from the film, & I do get why the critics hated it (a sloppy 16% on Rotten Tomatoes), mainly as the film is very self-aware of itself & doesn’t take itself serious; maybe that’s why I think the film managed to funny at times. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that making this film was a dumb idea, & it’s quite clear that the makers were trying to replicate the success of 21 Jump Street (& it’s better sequel), by going the blockbuster way of no brains, plus the R rating allowed the countless F-bombs and a couple of unwanted penis scenes on screen, but does it all work here, mostly no, mainly as the film hardly does anything to utilize its stars, especially the comedic potential with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron.
The story follows Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), the head of a elite team of lifeguards protecting the beaches of Emerald Bay, Florida. Having made over 500 rescues in his career, Mitch is beloved by the community, to the annoyance of local beat cop Garner Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Mitch’s superior, Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel). As city council has managed to squeeze in a little budget for them, Mitch and his second-in-command Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), decide to add in some new interns for future positions, which includes the enthusiastic Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), chubby underdog Ronnie Greenbaum (John Bass), a regular on the beach who spends most of his time drooling over lifeguard CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrback) and Matt Brody (Zach Efron), a former two time Olympic gold- medalist who has fallen on hard times and despite Mitch’s disapproval is shoved into the team to help Brody complete his community service. Adding to Mitch’s troubles is the regular discovery of drugs being washed up near the Huntley Club, which is now under the ownership of businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), who has been swiftly gaining more power in the Bay area through her newly purchased club. Will Mitch be able to properly indoctrinate his chosen recruits and get to the bottom of Victoria’s shady behavior? The film starts off as expected, fun and campy, and it is hilarious to see how these different characters interact, C.J. being a hot lifeguard and Ronnie trying to score a date with her and every encounter with her goes awry. Matt and Mitch always going head to head, and the duo trying to investigate this drug crime. I’m happy to say that this film has no problem making fun of its roots and they often come up with creative ways to do it. They aren’t quite as meta but the constant slow- motion running and these lifeguards working outside their job descriptions are repeatedly mocked and skewered. The overall plot is outlandish and ridiculous but the film doesn’t sidestep that issue, it addresses it continuously and has fun making fun of it alongside the audience. Does the film drift too far into implausibility? Absolutely but you can’t take this film seriously. It completely unravels if you do. This isn’t an issue just for this film, if a film can acknowledge how unrealistic it is, I can try to go along with it and this film had the good sense to do this. Does this film hit that extremely high bar set by the Jump Street franchise? No but it also laps CHIPS pretty easily. The comparison to 21 Jump Street is fair with this being in the same genre but I feel like people forget how special those films were. The Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill starrer came out of nowhere and achieved a well-deserved rare universal acclaim for a comedy film, while this film cannot completely distract from how ridiculous the plot is and the film needed a tighter edit. What also prevents the film from reaching the same levels as 21 Jump Street is its story and pacing. While there is nothing wrong with a drug invasion story, it still feels too standard and confining for the world it’s in. At one point, they point out some plots of the old TV show that I wish I’d see used for the film (like surfers smuggling diamonds). The pacing unfortunately drags to a two-hour film that not only makes it too long, but allows a lot of unfunny jokes to stay. In fact, there were a couple of characters that if you were to cut out (like Ron and C.J.), I don’t think it would have affected the story. Another complaint I have is some characters really being bland. Especially that of Summer and Stephanie weren’t developed and had no real depth. Stephanie should have had more going on and it seemed like the “love story” between her & Mitch was a bit under-filled. There was longing with these characters, also I wasn’t that keen on the beauty and the geek scenario that was hammered in. The humor is very predictable, often relying on foul language to add some sort of risqué edge to the painful, slapstick humor throughout the film, which obviously gets repetitive after a while. Plus, most of these jokes are just misfires, coming mainly from the character of Matt Brody, who feels like a character from Neighbors transferred into this film. Sure, there are some sexual jokes such as a guy’s private parts accidentally getting stuck on a beach wooden chair as he fell on it, a gratuitous scene of a dead guy being full frontal, etc.
In reassuring self-mockery director Gordon vividly recreates the classic “slow-mo” running shots of his stars in homage to the original series. In the introductory beach sequence, wannabe life guard Ronnie, played by charming soft-bodied geek Jon Bass, gazes longingly at the crush of his life C.J. Parker, played by the beautiful & sweet former Sports Illustrated Model Kelly Rohrbach, as she runs emerging from the ocean. It’s a shame on several levels, because Rohrbach & the rest of the cast are not just good looking but also quite charismatic, funny, and charming. Unfortunately, those attributes are distinctly lacking in writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift‘s dreadfully erratic screenplay. With comedy experts like Dwayne Johnson & Zac Efron, this film could have been laugh-out-loud hilarious, however, the script is pretty tame & all this film elicits, are a few chuckles here & there. Director Seth Gordon tries his best but, this film pales in comparison with his successful directorial effort, Horrible Bosses (2011). What does not work here mainly is the absence of a real plot. The plot not only doesn’t work but it basically splits the film into two completely unsatisfying pieces. The first piece brings a diversity of comic set-pieces which on their own, probably couldn’t make a good sketch. They lack a depth of character requiring one or two of them to be more gullible, less resourceful or otherwise dumber than what was previously established. The other half of the film plants its flag firmly on The Rock‘s ability to recap what we already know while Priyanka Chopra chews unhelpfully on the scenery until the timer runs out. All throughout the film drops hints that you should care about this or that – an insert shot of a watch brings more pause than a fiery boat rescue. Yet because nothing new is ever revealed, the film’s call for attention becomes soporifically annoying. The overall tone of the film is also aggressively reductive, treating the, in retrospect quaint misogyny of the original series with an uncomfortable amount of contrarian glee. Every time one of the girls of the film justifiably call out the boys for being pervs, the payoff by the end of the film amounts to nothing more than quid pro quo ribbing or worse – they end up with the dude at the end. There are a few action and chase scenes of seeing Mitch jumping out of a burning yacht after saving a few girls. Going undercover in a morgue. Or a climactic showdown with the antagonist while the fireworks are going off. The visual effects in most of those scenes are surprisingly quite bad. Luckily despite being let down the script, the cast seems to be having fun. Dwayne Johnson is playing his usual charismatic self, & make sure his likable demeanor keeps us glued to the screen. Zac Efron shows again that he’s an underrated comic actor and shares a strong chemistry with The Rock. Kelly Rohrbach is funny as well as stunning. Alexandra Daddario and Ilfenesh Hadera look gorgeous, but as I mentioned above they don’t get to do much here. Jon Bass was alright, while Hannibal Burress was hilarious, so is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. I am not sure what prompted Priyanka Chopra to take up such a role that she is so cliché & vain. An A lister back in Bollywood, Chopra despite the lackluster character traits, somehow manages to use her ability and charisma to sail through. David Hasslehoff and Pamela Anderson‘s names should be taken off the opening credits just for the nostalgic surprise appearances. On the whole, ‘Baywatch’ is a fairly flawed & generic film which despite the presence of a likable cast, is squandered by a futile story, repetitive humor and a unifying tone.
Directed – Seth Gordon
Rated – R
Run Time – 116 minutes