As a massive fan of the original TV series (and especially seasons 1-3), the thought of a rebooted movie that played everything for laughs didn’t sit well with me at all. All of the trailers and clips released to promote the film seemed to rely heavily on crude and obvious gags, and seemingly lost the good intention of the show and replaced it instead with R-rated humour to get a cheap giggle. Now all of those gags are obviously still in the final cut, but the film manages to embrace the spirit of the show much more than I thought they would. The end product is a movie that feels like a light homage, but more a silly and sexy comedy.
That’s not to say that Baywatch is bad – in fact it’s very enjoyable… and this coming from someone who was very sceptical of the project. Matt Brody (Zac Efron) is an arrogant and misunderstood two-time Olympic swimming champion, who has fallen on troubled times. Part of his community service requires him to work a stint as a lifeguard trainee at Baywatch. This instantly puts him at loggerheads with Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), a lifeguard with over 500 saves to his name, who thinks Brody doesn’t have what it takes to do the job.
Elsewhere, the local beach club has a new manager named Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), who seems to be involved in some questionable side businesses. When dead bodies start showing up across their beaches, Mitch and his crew, consisting of Matt, Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), and new recruits Summer (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie (Jon Bass) do what all lifeguards do – covertly investigate police cases and try and to solve the crime, with a little disgruntled help from local beach cop Garner Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
There are certain things that the mind naturally conjures up when thinking of Baywatch and the filmmakers certainly know how to deliver some of those elements to the big screen. The cast are all stunning so there’s no shortage of beautiful people for your eyes to soak up, be it the stunning duo of Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach or the muscle-clad leads Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. But the long, lingering shots of the beach and the sunrise and sunsets over California aren’t given their due credit here. Thankfully, the film does know how to utilise music and slow-motion montages well… none more effective than when Kelly Rohrbach is running on the beach.
Zac Efron’s career has taken a decidedly odd turn since he first broke onto the scene. Allegedly turning down the remake of Footloose to instead focus on more dramatic work, his last 3 movies have been Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Bad Neighbours 2 and Dirty Grandpa. I’d like to see him branch out a bit more because I think he’s a real untapped talent, but that being said, he is a very funny guy and does a great job here as Matt Brody. Dwayne Johnson is box office gold at the moment and his star doesn’t look to be falling anytime soon. He is solid as Mitch and leads the film well, with both he and Efron sharing a great chemistry that makes the film flow well.
It’s a shame that the characters that featured so heavily in the first few seasons of Baywatch, especially crowd-favourite Shauni (Erika Eleniak), Jill (Shawn Weatherly), Craig (Parker Stevenson), Eddie (Billy Warlock) and drifter John D. Cort (John Allen Nelson) have no modern counterparts in this reboot. Kelly Rohrbach does remarkably well as CJ Parker, Alexandra Daddario doesn’t have enough to do as Summer, (which is a crying shame and the movie’s biggest fail) and the comedy genius of Rob Huebel is left largely untapped here. Priyanka Chopra makes for a great villain, Hannibal Buress always makes you laugh and Ilfenesh Hadera is solid, but again should have been used more.
For those looking for cameos, only Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff appear, and both are woefully underused, but still raise a nostalgic chuckle. In many ways, it would have been much better for Johnson and co. to have played completely new characters, leaving scope for some of the classic names to reappear as themselves, and thus keeping this film firmly in the same universe. It seems that for a reboot, they have left a hell of a lot of good content buried in the sand… and where is Hobie?! You surely can’t have a Baywatch film without Hobie Buchannon.
Baywatch always had an absurd premise and one of the films best attributes is how it handles this. Lifeguards solving crimes above and beyond the call of duty is funny, but the film embraces this whilst never actually being deliberately dismissive. There are plenty of reminders, most coming from Zac Efron’s character Matt, who is constantly perplexed and questions why these missions aren’t best left to the police or proper authorities. It’s a balancing act that works very well. It recognises the silliness but doesn’t dismiss it outright, making the film feel like a feature length episode of the show.
When all is said and done, Baywatch delivers an enjoyable 2 hours of sun-kissed laughs. It never takes itself too seriously and has fun with the premise. Personally, I think they was plenty of scope to make a straight and serious Baywatch film. Having not taken on that challenge, the comedy angle works, but it actually doesn’t need the R rated gags. I’m not saying that they aren’t funny – (the one involving Ronnie, CJ and a wooden sun lounger is hilarious!), but this could have easily been a 12A with a few tweaks. Sometimes the swearing just feels awkward and needlessly shoe-horned in. I would certainly like to see a sequel, especially if they introduce more classic characters to the fold. For now, The Rock continues to knock them out of the park and makes Baywatch a pleasant surprise with a few belly laughs for good measure.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Priyanka Chopra, Ilfenesh Hadera, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson Director: Seth Gordon Writer: Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant (story by), Damian Shannon, Mark Swift (screenplay) Released By: Paramount Certificate: 15 Duration: 116 mins Release Date: 29th May 2017