*that awkward moment when your “job” of being a film reviewer begins to actually feel like a job*
We all knew this one was coming. In an age of constant reboots, re-imaginings, and basically any known preexisting property with a recognizable brand name getting the feature film treatment, it was inevitable that Baywatch would soon be getting re-adapted into film form. And follow the trend of self-aware, borderline parodies of recognizable properties like 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, the 2017 big screen adaptation of Baywatch – of course adapted from the popular television series of the same name – hopes to follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned franchises. But while this particular attempt at a knowingly tongue-in-cheek franchise revival ultimately falls short of the cleverness and charm that it aspires to, it’s not without it virtues, and manages to provide a fair amount of lowest common denominator, guilty pleasure chuckles. Make of that what you will.
Far and away, the best thing about Baywatch is its assembled cast. For all the problems this film has (and we’ll get to those later), the one consistently praise-worthy aspect throughout the entire thing is how the chemistry between all the major players keeps everything afloat (pun optional). Surprising absolutely nobody, it seemingly remains impossible for Dwayne Johnson to give a performance that’s not utterly charming and charismatic, and former Disney Channel alumni Zac Efron continues his recent trend of capable, self-deprecating comedic turns. But perhaps the most surprising thing about this film is how well the female cast members all manage to fare. Actresses like Alexandra Daddario, IIfenesh Hadera, and Kelly Rohrbach, while serving in fairly underwritten parts, each manage to inject their roles with their own likable, charming presences – apart from obviously just being there to fulfill the requirements of mere eye candy, though there’s certainly no deficit in that department either, be it for the men or the women in this. For all that the humor itself might not always work, these performers sometimes manage to elevate it due to a very believable, natural group dynamic between them all.
All humor is subjective, folks. What might leave one individual completely cold and unmoved might bring another person to tears due to uncontrollable laughter. But what’s not subjective are things like wit, cleverness, and style – none of which are present in the humor of Baywatch. Now, I’m not suggesting that every film aspire to be the sharpest, most challenging comedic tour de force imaginable, but it wouldn’t hurt for this film to at least attempt to have any of the smarts that it aspires towards. Rather, it opts for the easy gag every time, and even sometimes drags its more raunchy set-pieces out long past their expiration dates. And while making the viewer uncomfortable is surely its goal in a few of these cases, it would help if the jokes themselves were funny at all to begin with, which many of them regrettably aren’t.
For all that Baywatch tries to be self-aware and constantly pokes fun at both itself and the source material that it’s based on, it does fall victim to what’s beginning to re-emerge as a problem for modern comedies once again, and that’s trying to force in a story that’s both serious and for the most part completely devoid of any attempts at humor. This is something that’s plagued most mainstream US comedies from the past couple of decades, where the actual comedy in the film sometimes comes across as window dressing to hang onto an otherwise completely predictable, uninteresting story – and Baywatch is unfortunately no different. While it makes sense to have some sort of meat on the bones of this flick, there’s a very noticeable separation between the ‘story scenes’ and the ‘comedy scenes’, each of which take on entirely different moods and styles, and neither of which fit in very well with one another. As I mentioned, this isn’t a problem specific to this one film, but it doesn’t make it any less distracting or unnecessary.
At the end of the day, you get what you pay for with Baywatch. I’m not usually a fan of the whole “just turn off your brain and go with it” scapegoat, but if there’s anything playing in theaters right now that requires such a descriptor, it’s this puppy. While the film aims for 21 Jump Street levels of self-awareness and satire, its efforts are often stunted by the lousy writing and occasional over-reliance on crude and shock humor. But the assembled cast does one hell of a job picking up the slack from the storytelling and joke departments, and manages to just barely salvage the whole production. If this seems up your alley, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t please its target audience. Just don’t go in expecting anything other than exactly what its advertised as, and you should be good to go.