The Hippo


Oct 16, 2019








Baywatch (R)

Baywatch (R)

By Amy Diaz

Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron don the swimwear in Baywatch, an uneven first draft for a comedy adaptation of the 1990s TV show.

Mitch Buchannon (Johnson) is the proud leader of the Baywatch, the squad of lifeguards keeping watch over the beach. Though saving people from drowning is their first mission, they also keep an eye out for smugglers hiding diamonds in surfboards or sandgrifters stealing from beachgoers or, in the case of the current menace, a theatrically villainous, hotel-owning drug dealer named Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra). Victoria’s evil plan includes pressuring small business owners to sell her all the land around the beach, bribing the city council and selling highly potent drugs, which really feels like an unnecessary side gig. But even though her plan is poorly formed and catching her is pretty decidedly not the job of the lifeguards, Mitch has his eye on Victoria.
The rest of his crew — Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) — seem to take their job as scantily dressed law enforcement just as seriously. As do two of the three new recruits: Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) joins because it’s what she lives to do, Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) joins because he has the hots for CJ and Matt Brody (Zac Efron) joins because it counts as the community service mandated by his plea deal. Brody is a bad-boy Olympic swimmer who thinks he’s too good for the Baywatch but, once saddled with him, Mitch is determined to make a team player out of him.
“This could be like 21 Jump Street,” is what I’ve been telling myself about this movie. “This could be like 21 Jump Street” was also clearly the ruling principle for this movie. Baywatch seemed to be shooting for that movie’s very specific blend of comedy-action and meta humor.
I can see how this movie tried to put together the relationships and situations at this movie’s core: the Mitch and Brody relationship, Mitch’s belief that his mission includes some policing, the team aspect of the Baywatch team, the idea of a cartoonish villain. I can see what wells they’re going to for their jokes, and I can see how they constructed the story to build in opportunity for specifically R-rated gags. Even though I never watched Baywatch, I can even see the winking callbacks to the show. Generally, throughout this movie, I can see what they’re trying to do. In fact, like an inside-out and not-yet-complete home-ec project I can see all of the seams in this movie. And, for the same reason that you don’t generally buy clothes with straight pins still in them, I really would have preferred to wait for a more finished product with this movie. Something where the plot holes were filled and the comic edges were sharpened.
Dwayne Johnson is fun here. This is not a surprise — he’s generally fun in most things. The movie doesn’t seem completely certain who Mitch is, so it plays with his size, his general badass-ness, his ability to be both serious and goofy at the same time. It can’t seem to decide whether Mitch is a police detective trapped in a lifeguard’s body or the lifeguards in this world really are supposed to be police of the beach — answering that question would help the movie pick a lane in terms of what it’s doing with the whole idea of the Baywatch as caper investigators.
Efron is also fun, particularly when a movie is playing with his general aging boy-band member quality. The movie has a more clearly drawn arc for his character — misfit who has to learn team spirit — but there is still a sense that the movie is letting previous Efron roles (the frat brother in the Neighbors movies for example) do the work of creating a character here.
The biggest problem with Baywatch is that “I can see that this is the joke” is not the same as “this joke is funny.” While it has plenty of elements to make for a good bit of dopey grown-up comedy, Baywatch was never able to pull those parts together.
Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity. Directed by Seth Gordon with a screenplay by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift, Baywatch is an hour and 56 minutes long and distributed by Paramount Pictures. 

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