The only thing to say about the Baywatch movie is that it could have been worse. Really. Then again, Hollywood probably should’ve known better than to try to update it, even in our current era of endless reboots, prequels, sequels, and remakes. Much like the recent Power Rangers adaptation, the main problem is that the TV show that spawned it had an appeal that seemed confined to its era, which was a bizarre mix of cheese and camp, as well as a lighthearted tone that both allowed the show to fully embrace every ridiculous situation the cast found itself in, and get away with the…let’s just say visuals.
That’s not to say this Baywatch doesn’t have a few things going for it, such as the cast, who manage to score some laughs while looking great in the required beach attire. The filmmakers were obviously hoping that Dwayne Johnson would be enough to compensate for the any cracks in the foundation, and their bets partially paid off. Johnson is in his element here, playing the kind of muscled, lovable weirdo whose appeal is difficult, if not impossible, to resist. If the movie had given him a more solid support to work from, Baywatch could’ve worked. Alas, there are some things that not even The Rock can pull off, not even with the likes of Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, and Hannibal Buress as backup.
At least director Seth Gordon (who did the same for Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief) able to make this movie more enjoyable than it has any right to be, but its identity crisis hampers things. Baywatch wants to take itself seriously while also making fun of its own ridiculousness, and give viewers a whole lot of dumb action and eye candy while trying to be a more meta experience akin to the 21 Jump Street movies. But in order for any of these approaches to work, you have to fully commit to them, and Baywatch does not. It’s strangely self-conscious when it most desperately needs confidence, especially in regards to its female cast. Every time the guys rant, they make sure to be sensitive to the women, and the movie actually tries to do a little social commentry through its female villain (Priyanka Chopra), of all things. But she’s so incompetent that it’s hard not to think her dad did the right thing by not making her top dog in the family business.
And yes, Baywatch sexualizes every woman onscreen, but it’s rather hard to complain when it also makes sure its male cast members are shirtless as much as possible. Good thing too, because we need something to look at with a plot this flimsy. There’s a ruthless queenpin smuggling a dangerous new breed of illegal drugs in on the beach, and the police are strangely absent, the politicians are corrupt, blah, blah, blah. You know the drill. It barely helps that newbie Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced Olympic athlete who’s new to the team, points out how ridiculous it is that lifeguards are taking it upon themselves to do police work.
But his skepticism barely registers, because Dwayne Johnson is practically Superman, an extremely competent, insanely likable hero who regularly saves lives, but unlike Superman, is so charismatic he’s turned a bunch of lifeguards into a vigilante group who are willing to risk their lives and freedom at his command. It’s basically a cult.
It’s one of many ways Baywatch is unintentionally hilarious, but luckily it’s also mostly funny when it tries to be. Great things are not to be found, but is that really a surprise?