Since 21 Jump Street a few years ago, there has been several old TV show properties that have made their way to the big screen, hoping to capitalize on the nostalgia driven box office success that film enjoyed. Baywatch is the latest attempt at this transition, and while it tries to emulate the formula that Jump Street utilized, the results are a much more underwhelming final product. Baywatch had a lot going for it leading up to the film’s release, that should have made it a bit easier to convince people this was not just a lame cash in attempt. For one, the property is much more renowned than Jump Street, as you would be hard pressed to find somebody that didn’t watch it, or wasn’t at least familiar with the premise, and the use of slow motion beach running. The film also stars Dwayne Johnson, who may be the biggest movie star in the world, and is usually pretty good in anything he decides to be in. Add all of that to a cast of beautiful people, and Baywatch should have been a splashing success. While the box office returns may still make that happen, it will not be a result of the product on-screen, which is a regrettable comedy that has the distinction of not being all that funny.
The film borrows very heavily from 21 Jump Street, as the plot revolves around an under qualified group of people, trying to take down a drug kingpin. Where the characters in that film were at least cops, Baywatch is inherently sillier because in no way would these lifeguards actually attempt to try to act like cops, no matter how much they love their beloved bay. This story is the main crux of the film, with the b-story focusing on redemption for Zac Efron’s character Matt Brody, who is a disgraced Olympic party boy, and is thrust onto the team tom complete community service for any number of dumb mistakes he made in his past. The story ends of focusing too much on the getting the characters to get along, which is more realistic for the group of lifeguards, but overly boring for the type of film this is supposed to be. There are far too many sequences where Brody is told what to do, be it to keep himself or others safe, and then does the exact opposite, all because he is a stuck up solo act. This worked the first few times, but the film relies on too many of these scenes, all of which happen too close together. The drug operation aspect of the film is where the better moments come from, but unfortunately fall for too many tropes, and the story becomes incredibly predictable as a result.
Predictability in a comedy however isn’t always a bad thing, because often times in big budget comedies, the story takes a back seat to the jokes. In Baywatch however the jokes don’t really land, and are few and far between the longer the film goes. Most of the comedy comes at the beginning, and while most of the bits are standard fare, some being funny and others not so much, the large majority of the sight gags and jokes, are too juvenile, and end up being cringe worthy, but not in a good way. While juvenile humor is not a deal breaker, and can be very funny, the sequences here do not work because they are too dumb, and typically go for the obvious, rather than a more subtle approach. It shouldn’t be all that surprising given that the characters are supposed to be dumb lifeguards, but most of the jokes just fall incredibly flat, and the movie suffers a great deal as a result. Where the humor excels the most, is in the self referential treatment, which is key in these reboots of older properties. The jokes at the story and character’s expense are some of the better ones in the film, but they are stretched very thin by the time the credits role.
One of the finer elements of the film is the cast, who are all serviceable in the face of a bad story, but none of which stand out enough to save it. Johnson is naturally the lead, and while his over the top take on Mitch Buchannon is funny at times, his delivery of all of his lines are the same, so regardless of whether or not the character is being sarcastic, jokey, or serious, it becomes hard to tell. The film also at times makes Mitch out to be an idiot as expected, but only when it is convenient for the story, so the character is very disjointed. Efron also underwhelmed as Brody, as the character is entirely one-dimensional. The character is also the butt of a large number of the jokes, and fails to take advantage of the Efron surprisingly good comedic chops. The female lifeguards take a backseat to Efron and Johnson, which makes sense from a star power perspective, but all of them are good, and maybe could have used a bit more screen time. Kelly Rohrbach is the modern incarnation of CJ Parker, who is nice and genuine, and not an overly dumb blonde archetype, which would have grinded this film to a halt. Alexandra Daddario is the main foil for Brody’s affection, and her snide rejections are more often than not pretty funny. Ilfenesh Hadera is the brains of the group, but is the least used of the main lifeguards, despite a clear rapport with Mitch, that should have been explored more. The only main lifeguard that doesn’t quite work is Jon Bass’ Ronnie, who is a desperate and uncomfortable weirdo pining for CJ’s affection, but is portrayed with too much slapstick humor, which wouldn’t stand out so much if he wasn’t the only character doing it. None of the side characters do much for this film as the story is focused on the lifeguards most of the time, but the villainous Victoria Leeds is played incredibly well by Priyanka Chopra, and while her character isn’t given much, she makes do with what she is given, so the antagonist doesn’t feel like a let down.
In the end Baywatch is as it always was, a film about beautiful people working on the beach, but yet it could have been so much more. The ffilm\s undoing is its lack of consistent humor, and its over reliance on the less interesting aspect of the story. Had there been a focus on better jokes, and the ridiculous aspects of the story, it might have made for more of a dumb fun movie, instead of what it ended up being.