Directed by: Seth Gordon
Premise: An adaptation of the television series. The head of a lifeguarding team (Dwayne Johnson) conflicts with a new recruit (Zac Efron). The lifeguards investigate a criminal plot to manufacture and distribute drugs in the bay.
What Works: There are two performances of note in Baywatch. Jon Bass plays Ronnie, the out of shape but good-hearted lifeguard trainee. Bass is willing to make himself look ridiculous, the requisite of any comic actor, and he is the movie’s most consistently funny performer. Also rising above the material is Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as a police officer. His exasperation is one of the few points where the film’s self-awareness actually yields comic results.
What Doesn’t: This new feature film version of Baywatch most likely exists because of the success of the 21 Jump Street reboot but this film most closely resembles the 2005 adaptation of The Dukes of Hazzard. The original Baywatch television series was a more-or-less wholesome show but the new film is a lewd, hard-R rated action comedy or at least that’s what it attempts to be, and it bears almost no resemblance to its source material. The humor of Baywatch is scattershot. A handful of jokes land but a lot of them don’t and much of the comedy comes down to gay panic moments between Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. The film exhibits some self-awareness; about every five minutes, Efron’s character points out the ridiculousness of the premise and begs his coworkers to defer to the police. These moments are never enough to lampoon the source material but they do annoyingly remind the audience that we are watching a movie. Baywatch also shows some self-awareness in the way it photographs Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron; the two of them are very fit and the film consistently offers the actors opportunities to take off their shirts and flex for the camera. But these men aren’t poking fun at themselves the way Johnson did in Moana or Efron did in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. Instead of self-parody, these moments come across as narcissistic self-indulgence by Hollywood movie stars. It’s a shame because Johnson and Efron have the ability to laugh at themselves and Baywatch is ripe for parody but this film is too dumb and pulled in too many different directions. The Baywatch television show was built around the lifeguard action but in this movie that’s almost an aside, especially after the first half hour. The attempt here is to make an action comedy but the film stalls whenever it is away from the beach, which it is for most of its second half. Nothing in this movie is thrilling. The action is never more than pedestrian and the filmmakers don’t execute the set pieces in a way that plays up the physical comedy. Despite the amount of screen time that’s dedicated to the criminal investigation, it seems slapped onto the movie as an afterthought. The criminal conspiracy doesn’t make sense and there’s no tension. Even a silly comedy like The Naked Gun needs to be coherent, provide some dramatic stakes, and adhere to its own internal logic. The Baywatch movie doesn’t do that. The whole affair comes across lazy and that’s especially evident in the lousy filmmaking. The movie is really sloppy. The editing is terrible especially in the action scenes which have no continuity and don’t make any sense. The special effects of Baywatch are awful and frequently look like a SyFy Channel movie. There film has a lot of terrible composite shots; it’s obvious that the actors were filmed on a green-screen set with the background dropped in later and not just in action sequences but in static dialogue exchanges in which the California beach was clumsily inserted in post-production. This defect is a succinct visualization of the laziness and ineptitude at the heart of this picture.
Bottom Line: Baywatch is another example of an action comedy that is neither thrilling nor funny. It’s lazy and shabbily made and bears little resemblance to its source material while offering nothing for new audiences.
Episode: #650 (June 4, 2017)