In the 1990s, a TV show about lifeguards took the world by storm. Yes Baywatch was one of the biggest shows in the world for a while, but not for the in-depth plots and interesting characters. No, if you ask anyone for their memories of Baywatch they would most likely bring up that they enjoyed it because it was a lot of hot people running around with very little on. Oh and it usually involved things blowing up on the beach, which is nuts. But can it translate into being a movie in 2017? Well let’s find out with Baywatch!
Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson, Moana) is the leader of a group of lifeguards at Emerald Bay and they are determined to make the beach the best it possibly can be. However their great life is threatened not only when cocky former Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron, 17 Again) is forced into the team but when Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra, Barfi!) plans to take over the beach and make sure the public can never go on it.
So this film is taking the 21 Jump Street route. It is taking a series that was serious but also campy from the past and turns it into an outright comedy with a lot of self-referential humour. How does it do it then? Unfortunately with a lot of dick jokes. Yep, it doesn’t take four minutes until we get a first joke about the nether regions and just in case you thought that was a one-off, a remnant from a far worse script, there is a very long, very painful bit where Ronnie (Jon Bass, Loving) gets all of his junk trapped in a sun lounger. And the humour never really changes from that. Just a lot of low-level humour ranging from sex stuff to vomit. Because for some reason, film makers think that someone throwing up is automatically hilarious and not disgusting.
And it does appear that everyone involved realises that the script is a load of rubbish. In his time, Dwayne Johnson and his bucket loads of charisma has been able to lift a lot of terrible material over his career. But here, it seems like he has truly given up as he does the most unlikable character of his career. Mitch berates others for not being a team player and arrogant, yet is so obviously one himself without the film acknowledging it. He is constantly insulting to Matt and we’re supposed to find it funny as he is the designated unlikable one, though Efron makes such a lack of impact you won’t feel a thing about him. Also while they make a joke about it, Mitch does get his team in very dangerous situations just because he obviously feels insecure about being a lifeguard. That makes for a character you don’t want to get behind, yet this film really wants you to.
So yes, it is pretty unforgivable that this movie manages to make Dwayne Johnson of all people unlikable, but it’s not as if the rest of the cast pick up the slack. Zac Efron has been on a terrible run of movies recently and seriously, if he hasn’t sacked his agent he should because this is the latest clunker from him. As I mentioned briefly, he is just a non-presence in the movie. His character is meant to be the one with the arc where he turns from selfish into a team player, but he has such a lack of personality you don’t even realised it has happened. And this isn’t exactly a movie with a lot going on.
And yes, not a lot happens in this movie. And that’s fine, I like a lot of movies with very simple plot lines and not much happens. But to do that sort of movie right, you need to have a short running time and characters you enjoy being around even when the plot isn’t moving forward. We already know that the characters are utter rubbish so does this film at least run at a reasonable time? Nope, this clocks at way over two hours. Comedies usually just go for an hour and a half and there’s a reason for that, that’s about the length we can enjoy the laughs for. When you have it for two hours, the threadbare plot drags and that’s exactly what happens in this movie. It drags, it gets dull, you fall asleep.
And I don’t know about you but the film being in on the joke on how ridiculous it is sort of ruins it all. While you can level a lot of criticisms at the original TV show, boring was never one of them. For the people who enjoyed it, Baywatch was an hour worth of campy escapism. It was totally not aware how silly it was and people enjoyed that about it. So when this movie starts making jokes about the daft things those lifeguards got up to and that everyone ran in slow motion, it feels more mean than it does witty. We all made these jokes about the TV show ten years ago and then here comes this movie making the same jokes, thinking it is cool because of it. But we made those jokes about Baywatch because that was what endeared us to it so having this new guy come in doing it feels very awkward, which are the only laughs this will get by the way.
The original Baywatch TV series was campy fun and while it is definitely not quality television, it did scratch an itch and become memorable in it’s own right. This movie adaptation will not be memorable other for the people who need to pad out worst adaptation lists ten years from now. It makes all of its characters unlikable, even ones played by Dwayne Johnson which is quite impressive really, and by getting in on the joke it just ruins it. When a TV show that is famous for women running in slow motion is higher in quality than your movie, you have an issue.