Baywatch is a solid movie from TV series reboot. The long-running series was frivolous, hottie-filled and endearingly cheesy entertainment and the film follows in its waves. Based on the concept, it’s probably impossible to make a truly great Baywatch movie. But the film is a pleasant enough distraction.
Lifeguards Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson, The Fate of the Furious) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) are prepping to welcome the next round of recruits. Mitch takes his job seriously as someone could die on his watch if he isn’t alert.
Ronnie (a scene stealing Jon Bass) is determined to make the cut this year provided he can stop freezing up whenever his crush, lifeguard CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), bounces along. Summer (Alexandria Daddario, who played Johnson’s daughter in San Andreas) is also vying for a coveted spot. To Mitch’s annoyance, one of those has already been promised to Olympic disgrace Matt Brody (Zac Efron in full bro-out mode).
Matt arrived at the worse time as a shady businesswoman, Victoria Leeds (a stunning Priyanka Chopra) starts making aggressive moves that start racking up a body count and an increase in drug trafficking. It’s up to Mitch and his lifeguards to protect the bay. But Matt’s attitude, a lack of resources and overprotective cop Sgt. Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) aren’t going to make it easy.
Like Mark Wahlberg before him, Johnson is essentially playing the same character in every role now. There’s not much to distinguish Mitch from his G.I. Joe Retaliation character Roadblock or Hobbs from the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s a good thing Johnson has such a dynamic charisma to make it a non-issue. And the perfect delivery to dish out some awful puns.
Efron seemed positioned to be the next acting heartthrob a la Ryan Gosling, but he’s found his niche as a comedy actor with a CGI-like physique. Seriously, this guy probably hasn’t even seen a cheeseburger.
Director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) knows how to get the most out of eye candy for everyone cast and the jokes largely always deliver. Baywatch works best as a comedy as Gordon can’t fully connect on the more action intense and dramatic moments. Oddly some of the action scenes have a faker, obvious CGI sheen to them than the series.
Unlike a lot of popular 70s, 80s and 90s shows rebooted to movies, Baywatch was a pretty self-aware series. That meant screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift devote a lot of time ridiculing the inherent silliness of the concept.
Instead, they play off the characters to make it more of a straight up comedy. This provides some great running gags like Mitch’s nicknames for Matt, CJ flirting with Ronnie and Ellerbee’s inadequacies as a cop.
In rare moments, it gets too silly like Matt going drag to go undercover and a slugfest in a nursery. The humor works most of the time and Baywatch is at its best when the characters are playing off each other.
Clocking in at just shy of two hours, the film is about 30 minutes longer than necessary. The tacked on length starts to feel obvious after the third undercover scene. Matt’s redemptive arc is stale and drags down some of the fun with ill-advised attempts at drama.
The film doesn’t dip its toes too far into nostalgia as only David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson make cameos. Hasselhoff gets a more significant cameo, but Anderson looks amazing even without her signature red bathing suit.
Like the show, Baywatch is at its best when it’s a bouncy (pun intended) and breezy outing with pretty people and simple plots. Don’t expect much more than that and it should make for a fun, if not memorable, experience.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures