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Film Review: Baywatch

For a certain generation, the word Baywatch brings to mind the dumb, kitschy show of the 1990s that gave the world Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff. It was little more than tawdry storylines peppered with beautiful women in red one-piece swimsuits running slow motion in the sand. Its charm — a very loose interpretation — was its irony and campiness, much of it courtesy of the Hoff, offered in a hour-per-week package. The 2017 rendition of Baywatch, starring Dwayne (no longer "The Rock") Johnson and Zac Efron, drowns in its lack of specific identity throughout, even though it delivers genuine laughs in a juvenile bag of genital humor and an overbearing 119 minute run time.


Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson, taking over Hasselhoff's famous character) is the leader of the Baywatch, Emerald Bay’s elite lifeguards. Along with blonde and brunette eye candy C.J. Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), they protect the citizens from “the dangers of the ocean.” When Olympic gold medalist Matt Brody (Zac Efron, doing his best Ryan Lochte impression) has to serve community service for an unspecified plea deal, he is assigned to serve as a lifeguard-in-training on the Baywatch. 


Learning the ropes with fellow trainees — the tough, intelligent surfer Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and socially awkward Ronnie (Jon Bass) — he discovers that Baywatch is the tip of the spear for investigating the beach’s mysterious and often criminal incidences. When Mitch discovers drugs washed up on his beach and people start dying mysteriously, all paths lead to Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), a ruthless business women attempting to takeover Emerald Bay. Mitch leads his team of lifeguards on high speed chases and the requisite slo-mo runs.


That's where Baywatch begins: a zany, inordinate crime-stopper comedy that tries to poke fun at its television predecessor while still taking the action very seriously. Though he's abandoned The Rock persona, Dwayne Johnson has established himself as one of the true action heroes on the screen across several franchises, and Baywatch benefits from his hulking biceps and natural charisma on screen. Efron does a legitimately fantastic job of constantly grounding the story in reality with his incessant remarks that Mitch is not a cop. The two have visible comedic chemistry, and their repartee produces the best moments throughout the film.


Chopra delivers a noteworthy performance as the James Bond-esque villain, working overtime in her woefully short screentime. Most of the other cast members do a respectable job, but unfortunately are not used enough to establish a unique identity in the team, a disappointing theme in the movie. Jon Bass’s Ronnie is the weakest link in the cast; every scene he is prominently featured in, such as the opening introduction with C.J. and the dance floor distraction, are cringeworthy. To compensate for the wholes in casting, the film enlists several top comedic talents, like Rob Huebel and Hannibal Burress, to give the script some additional life. 


All this could be salvageable were it not for the weak moments in the film's editing. Characters break their established personalities with abrupt change and no explanation. Brody is supposed to be on lookout during Leeds’ party, but instead decides to drink himself into a stupor. OK, sure. Summer comes to chew him out for not being part of the team; a scene with Mitch ensues, then cut to Brody and Summer now drinking and sharing their life stories with mild flirtation mixed in, with no natural progression of dialogue or cinematic edit to account for this tonal shift. Perhaps the editors hadn't studied up on their aquatic lingo — but what's a movie without an anchor? 


Baywatch's tone is vulgar B-movie comedy performed by a mostly befuddled, mostly A-list cast. The humor employed is full of genital and marine-centric jokes, with most missing the mark. However, there are genuine laughs to be had, especially with The Rock as the facilitator — some of which serve are biting references to Efron’s teen idol movie career. At times, even in the hands of director Seth Gordon (known for the similar dude-bro crime comedy Horrible Bosses), the humor is annoying and even repugnant. Comedy often benefits from the Rule of Three, but hearing The Rock say “taint” six times in a three-minute scene showing a fully visible naked penis is not funny, no matter how many times he repeats it.


The narrative also shoehorns in the emotional sequences of a bildungsroman. Brody’s public humiliation during his last Olympic event, puking in the pool, is the source for his own coming of age journey. His character evolution pops up throughout the film in spurts, but never reaches a continuous story arc to fully define his development from arrogant imbecile to a team player. This idea had potential, but the lack of direction of the movie hinders its impact.


Much like 21 Jump Street, the Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum buddy comedy that sparked the nostalgic TV-to-modern movie trend, Baywatch heavily tries to replicate the nature of the source material, tossing in quips and references to episodes and moments in the series. But the basis for it is poorly thought out. The Rock takes on The Hoff's character, but both Pamela Anderson and her on-screen daughter C.J. work with Mitch Buchannon decades apart. The inclusion of David Hasselhoff in a cameo role as Mitch’s old lieutenant and Anderson reprising her role as Casey Jean Parker offer nothing to the film other than a moot tribute to the series. Hasselhoff has one line that is funny, and Anderson’s scene is completely forgettable. 


The humor, the narrative, and the tribute to the source material war for dominance throughout the movie, and that disconnection draws attention even through the mindless absurdity of the plot. 


But let's be honest, was anyone expecting a masterpiece from Baywatch? It does offer mild entertainment value. Still, the run time of 119 minutes is a drag. Imagine climbing the steps of the Washington Monument while being bombarded by various sexual jokes that are distasteful and worse, not funny. Prolonged sequences of failed jokes doesn't help with the pace, and some scenes feel just plain unnecessary. If you enjoyed reboots like 21 Jump Street or a Gordon's previous bro comedies, you will enjoy this flick.


It is not for everyone, but it does a serviceable job at delivering a vulgar humor-filled homage to one of the more perplexing shows of the 1990s. Whether you view it as a benefit or drawback will depend on your taste, but at least Baywatch the movie offered more than two hours of just slo-mo beach running. It is not the best blockbuster of the summer, but it certainly won’t be the worst.

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

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