The year 2017 has been pretty light on decent comedies thus far, and while the film adaptation of the popular television series “Baywatch” is nothing close to perfect, it is a step in the right direction for the genre. With a star-studded cast and an eye for both action and containing some rather enjoyable comedic moments, “Baywatch” isn’t a film for everyone, but for what it is it hits all the right marks.
“Baywatch” stars Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as numerous characters from the classic campy television show with Johnson and Efron leading the way as “Baywatch” leader Mitch Buchannon and alcoholic down-on-his-luck Olympian Matt Brody respectively. They are joined by Daddario’s Summer Quinn, Rohrbach’s C.J. Parker, and Jon Bass as new character Ronnie who are all members of an elite lifeguard squad that take it upon themselves to solve a drug ring and a series of murders with Bollywood starlet Priyanka Chopra as the antagonist. As the action unfolds the movie delves into a comedy-action hybrid tale filled with self-referential humor and meta jokes, and plenty of over-the-top entertainment.
First off “Baywatch” is not a film meant to be taken seriously, and this is coming from someone who tends to take movies a little to seriously himself. The “Baywatch” television show was a ridiculous amalgamation of sex appeal, humor, action, and drama and that’s pretty much what you get from this film as it absorbs the spirit of its source material and adapts it to a new age rather than trying to perfect or copy it directly. Almost everything about this film is massively over the top, but it’s actually quite tasteful. What drives it home is that Matt Brody seems to be the only lifeguard who realizes how ridiculously insane the whole thing is, but eventually he becomes a part of it all and we see a group of lifeguards take on a threat well above their pay grade. To put it simply, the movie may not be a work of art, but it’s fun.
The problem is it’s not always that funny. While this film manages to pack in much more effective humor than other television show themed films like “The Dukes of Hazard” and this year’s train wreck of a comedy “CHiPs”, it’s still more action than comedy and while I managed to find a few chuckles here and there, I found the film to be a bit dry, repetitive, and underwhelming in the laughs department at times. However, what little effective material is does provide is totally worth it including a scene where Matt Brody examines a corpses private area and several jokes geared towards the lifeguards acting like out-of-control wanna-be cops. When the film does manage to provide laughs, they’re chest busters so I guess it’s got that going for it.
Something that surprised me greatly from this film was I found “Baywatch” provided quite a bit of great character development for a comedy. We got back stories, or at least establishing scenes, for pretty much every major character and this provided a major insight into who these individuals were and why they were that way. The best part was everyone from dad-bodded Ronnie to the sexy lifeguards in red jumpsuits played a major role at some point in the film ,taking them from simply side characters there for their visual appeal to legitimate players in the overall story.
While some characters could have used a bit more screen time it wasn’t hard to keep track of this ragtag group of extreme lifeguards and where they stood as both people and crime solvers and each member of the cast does a great job making their character their own. The romantic subplots didn’t dominate the film, which I appreciated, but still played a big part in the development of these people and their individual story arcs and while I may be in a minority here I found that to be a major plus for this movie and a major attention to detail that, while it fails to help the film recover from it’s more underwhelming aspects, brought me in and helped me become invested in a cast that could have very easily been forgettable and underwhelming.
Yeah the story is cliche and a bit ridiculous, but that IS the point of “Baywatch” right? Even with that said though I’ll be the first to admit at time this movie goes a bit over the top, and there are moments where clear special effects and sound stage settings were used with minimal effort to hide those facts. Probably the worst sin this movie commits, other than its failure to commit 100% to it’s comedic approach to a classic source material, is that is tries to actually do way to much with too little, expanding the scope of the action to somewhere between ridiculously acceptable and suspension of disbelief. To give an example there’s super spy style action and then there’s “Fast and Furious” style action and “Baywatch” is stuck in between those extremes making it a bit too over the top, but not enough where you can completely accept the ridiculous nature of what is taking place, if that makes any sense.
That’s about all I have to say on “Baywatch” really. For me, it’s not a horrible film, even if it’s not the shot in the arm the comedy genre really needed this year. It’s fun, it’s funny (at times), it’s filled with great, if at time’s over-the-top, action and enjoyable meta humor, and the cast and Director Seth Gordon really do give it their all to take a classic property and turn it into something fresh, fun, and exciting for those who give it the time of day. It could have been better, but the key thing to understand here is that this could have been so much worse than it turned out and honestly I’d say this film may even set a new standard for television show-themed movies…even if that bar was never set too high to begin with.