Review: Baywatch

Baywatch was a surprisingly good comedy that could definitely have been better, but just about does the job lovingly mocking the original show.

Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) heads up a team of lifeguards in Florida, solving crimes, running in slow-mo and saving drowning people. His comfortable existence is shaken up by the enforced arrival of Matt Brody (Efron), a washed-up Olympian. The two must learn to work together against a mysterious conspiracy on the beach centred around hotelier Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra).

If you ever watched the original show, you’ll know it took itself hilariously seriously, and the movie is often willing to tear apart the stupid premise. The screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift hits 21 Jump Street peaks at times, especially when Brody’s character questions how the lifeguards think they can go around solving crimes, or the show’s women running in slow-mo (mostly mocked by the female characters too).

However, a far-ranging corruption plot feels a bit odd, and I guess my problem was: where does it draw the line between a show pisstake and a 21 Jump Street clone? Unfortunately, the answer is it doesn’t commit entirely to either. While some characters are more self-aware and comedic, others (including Johnson’s Buchanan) are an odd combination of the two. This makes for some odd scenes, where we laugh at him ribbing Brody or his ridiculous physique, but are then supposed to take his stance on ‘beach crime’ as a more serious plot point.

Honestly, the whole film would have been a scream if the writers and director Seth Gordon had decided it should be more one way or the other. Instead, the tone is a little misjudged, particularly towards the end. None of that is to detract too much from the humour, which while sometimes is obviously aimed at teenage boys, is also often pretty good (Buchanan’s inventive and continuous nicknames for Brody based on ’80s and ’90s boybands, or the baywatch administrator’s hilariously creepy obsession with Brody’s athletic prowess).

The plot’s simple and inoffensive, though one missed opportunity was the main female villain, pretty standard fare for these types of films, and someone that could have been more interesting. This is also the standard redemption story (times two), somewhat layered beneath a suncream-like veneer of muscles, sun and dick jokes. On the action front, it’s mostly average, with some naff CGI not helping, and perhaps a little more physical comedy would have been welcome, as Johnson and Efron prove pretty adept at sending their famously muscly physiques up.

There’s little to no point discussing acting ability – it’s more interesting to highlight just how good Johnson and Efron are at comedy and taking the mick out of their personas. I was particularly impressed with Efron, who carries on from sending himself up in Bad Neighbours and who ably copes with the charisma machine that is ‘The Rock’. He can honestly do no wrong, though as I said above the character could have been more funny and less serious at times.

The female characters are a mixed bunch – Alexandra Daddario’s Summer is the most self-aware, poking holes in Brody’s machismo whenever possible and definitely a more normal woman than model Kelly Rohrbach’s CJ, who largely serves as the lesser-dressed attractive foil to the idiotic comic relief character Ronnie. However, while played awkwardly by Jon Bass, he does seize the odd chance to stand out from the stereotype.

Chopra’s villain is (as said above) fairly one-note and a bit of a waste, while Ilfenesh Hadera bizarrely closes out the crew as the seen but barely defined Stephanie. Making her Johnson’s foil might have been a good plan, but instead she meanders in and out with no further development. Finally, there are cameos from the two most famous TV show actors, one more substantial and entertaining than the other.

I liked Baywatch and I laughed throughout – there weren’t really any hysterical bits, but it’s funny enough! I wish it had committed to really mocking the show, as it seems stuck between reverence and poking fun. It’s definitely nowhere near as bad as most reviews will suggest though.

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