Blame it on 21 Jump Street (the movie)’s success. After the failed revivals of ‘classic’ television shows like Ben Stiller’s Starsky & Hutch and Nicole Kidman’s Bewitched, these commercial and critical failures seemed to ruin the niche of popular television comedy to movie formula. But 21 Jump Street (and it’s subsequent sequel) proved to be cheeky and self-referential enough to garner the success the other adaptations couldn’t find. So now Baywatch has washed up on the cinematic beach starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, and Alexandra Daddario and a cast of unfortunately forgettable others.
To say that Baywatch has a plot would be only a disservice to the actual concept of narrative. Dwayne Johnson as Mitch and Zach Efron as Brody et al. operate as team of lifeguards. The first half of the film is team building and the constant ‘unwanted mentor’ role of Mitch to Brody. Soon, a generic drug dealing plot is revealed as being a reason to sustain a film for an unneeded two hours. Action ensues, jokes are told, and the plot meanders through Mitch’s platitudes of teamwork and responsibility as he constantly justifies he and his team’s vigilante actions.
Baywatch’s first and most glaring problem is on display from the get go. While at one point trying to be meta in the same vein as 21 Jump Street, it opts instead for complacent juvenile humor. During the first half hour, the punchline of every joke is accentuated by a seeming high school writer’s gleeful exuberance of the ‘f-word’ as a comedic tool. The jokes seem too stale to be formed by someone with Johnson’s charisma and natural comedic ability. The same can be said for Efron’s lines as most of the script seems to rely too heavily on their presence and not so much comedic chops (which Efron has showcased in other, better comedies). The other characters have little else to do than to be there for comedic effect without much discernible personality between them. For a film trying so desperately to make itself relevant, the actual humor in this comedy steadily keeps dragging through its self made drudgery of so-called comedic situations.
Although Baywatch tries so hard to not be, the often homophobic and misogynistic script (four screenwriters and a director thought a man touching another man’s genitals is cause for laughs?) offers little recourse. The inherent idea of bodies being the main focus of the television show and the now film is caustic to any idea of progressiveness. Even star Priyanka Chopra has said the film is a “feminist movie”, and yes, both male and female bodies are objectified but that should not be an excuse to still be objectifying, especially in this way and in this format. Other films can tackle these ideas in this platform of sardonic comedy, but Baywatch is neither competent nor interesting enough to offer any subtle meanings. It is unfortunate that the film so often misses the mark when it could have used these dated tropes of body-types-as-entertainment to show how ridiculous these constructions are. Yes, there is a male character with a so- called ‘dad-bod’, but that isn’t to offer any new commentary, only flat jokes. Baywatch seems terribly dated in its social commentary (or lack thereof).
Baywatch being an action-comedy could have at least offered some inspired action scenes, but director Seth Gordon keeps the same easy, generic scenes that hindered his other films. As a director, he has been given casts with enormous potential (like Jason Bateman and Mellissa McCarthy in Identity Thief) but he squanders their talent on the most juvenile of humor and uninteresting plots. Throughout Baywatch, there is a severe lack of fun from the cast and script and it hinders what could have been a basically fun summer film. Go talk with a lifeguard for two hours at a pool; it’ll be far more fun and relevant.
Grade – D