When the first trailer arrived, I was a bit baffled what this movie wants to be. It definitely had a 21/22 Jump Street vibe as it didn’t take itself seriously for the most part. However, there were also some cringily serious lines that made many people question its humor. Now that I’ve seen it, I gotta say some of the reservations proved accurate but in my opinion, this movie is in no way the disaster it is considered throughout the Internet. Sure, it doesn’t deal as cleverly with nostalgia and the source material as the Jump Street movies and isn’t quite as funny, but that’s why the Jump Street flicks are top-notch comedies and Baywatch with its kinda bawdy (but then again rather inoffensive mainstream) humor is simply not. I enjoyed Baywatch for the most part for the good team chemistry in the cast and the buddy feeling, the intentional over-the-topness, the cool soundtrack and – yes, of course, call me simple if you need to – also the swimsuits.I think what turned people off is the pretty unfortunate and very cringily unfunny opening 15 minutes. There is a weird opening action sequence where Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) saves some drowning person and Seth Gordon for whatever reason decided to drag this out with copious use of slo-mo. Then the title appears and dolphins jump out of the water to perform a buddy-chest-bump, which made me actually laugh for its (might I add, intentionally) exaggerated coolness. Then we meet the characters, which isn’t overly interesting nor funny and then we get one of the lowest points of the movie right at the start: Ronnie (Jon Bass) gets his erect dick stuck in a beach chair and it takes an excruciatingly long time to solve that situation. Granted, Dwayne Johnson and Kelly Rohrbach deliver some funny sadistic lines, making the idea of the scene worthwhile, but they could have sped this up a little.
After that, the movie picks up speed and has a nice pacing. The movie doesn’t reinvent the genre nor does it spoof the Baywatch formula but I liked the rather average formula of New Kid in Town Joins Team, Disagreements, Fucks Up, Gets Their Shit Together and Saves The Day Working Together. I never once thought about the runtime or felt bored.
So what happens is that selfish sunny boy, two-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron) joins the Baywatch team as part of his probation requirements and Mitch won’t have him as he is insubordinate and reckless, which is what Baywatch as an elite unit of lifeguards (who think they’re also cops) certainly doesn’t need. You may find that this movie takes itself too seriously on that behalf but I think they crack that up often enough and that you need some taking it seriously for the viewer to care about the plot (Last comparison, I promise: I mean, the Jump Street films also portrayed a serious investigation at the core of their plots.). Also, you wanna give the source material at least some credit: Even though I’ve never seen a single episode of the 90s show, I can imagine people didn’t just watch it for the swimsuits. Viewers may find the plot not very inspired or messy, which I can’t really invalidate, but I found the plot simple enough to follow and focus instead on being entertained by the comedy.
Baywatch acceps three new recruits from the most apt contestants in the qualifiers. The trials themselves aren’t super interesting but rather work as an expositional device, which is alright because then Efron shows how insanely jacked he is in an American Ninja Warrior-like parcour before he is challenged by Mitch in even more insane competition. The over-the-topness and Johnson’s banter with Efron made me laugh. I repeatedly heard that this is the first movie that doesn’t benefit from Johnson in the leading role, a point of criticism I don’t really get. Sure, Johnson has had more charismatic roles but he has a very good chemistry with Efron and also with the other team members and has some good lines to deliver. Brody joins the team and messes up repeatedly, causing the team to almost fail their mission to elucidate the drug dealing at their beach they suspect to be orchestrated by the Bond-villain-y club owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra). During these investigation missions, the film is supported by a very energizing and cool soundtrack. Afterwards, they frequently run into a cop that scolds them for overstepping their jurisdiction and who is pretty funny.
Another point of criticism is the blatant sexism. I can’t argue that there haven’t been more complex portrayals of women but here’s my stance: At least, Kelly Rohrbach and Alex Daddario aren’t just insanely hot, but also very likeable, funny and the characters are pretty good at their job. I can see that’s not enough and that this propagates wrong values and further mispresentation but as a simple man, I enjoyed those characters and yes, I enjoyed the presentation of them. I mean, the original show caused some increase in autoerotic activities and they repeatedly acknowledge and (to a lesser degree) spoof that. Also I would guess they didn’t wanna disappoint the male audience 😀 And here I end my pathetic attempt for (more or less) bullshit excuses for liking that aspect about the movie.
There are a few more points of criticism that I can share: The humor is sometimes very hit-or-miss with some awfully crude lines. The cameos of Hasselhoff are simply the worst, Pamela Anderson’s was awful as well because she just looks done after her countless surgeries, but at least it was somehow a payoff to their slo-mo joke. The most blatant non-humor and thus more objective weakness affects the technical execution. The CGI looks horrible, especially in the burning boat sequence with the fire and explosions. Unfortunately, that also affects many simple dialogue scenes that they clearly shot in front of a greenscreen and you can tell (if not from the visuals, then at the latest in the outtakes), which is too bad and a very undesirable trend. A propos outtakes: You can’t end a movie with outtakes that just aren’t funny. Similar to the first impression, that’s the last thing people will remember about the film and these outtakes certainly didn’t help the film. You can’t even really tell that the cast had fun shooting the movie. Jeez.
As the team grows together, there are two pairings that work quite well. First off, it’s Ronnie’s glaring attraction to CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) that she nicely but not sadistically plays with. I didn’t know Jon Bass before but he makes a good enough job to appear in future comedies. I particularly liked his dance distraction for Leeds at her party. Also, Brody tries to hit on Summer (Alexandra Daddario), who has a quick tongue and self-confidently turns him down. However, they come to like each other, which clearly also works because you can totatlly tell the have the hots for each other in real life.
Daddario could have been given more to do as she is actually a pretty solid actress. I liked Efron a lot in this movie with his combination of dumbness and sincere enthusiasm, which made me laugh the hardest. Despite being rather low humor and arguably bad taste, I actually found the morgue sequence pretty funny.
I truly believe that with the right mindset and expectations, people can have fun while watching Baywatch. It may not be a particularly clever and consistently funny comedy but it is entertaining enough to have a good time.
title image and all photos except last: © by Paramount Pictures (Photo by Frank Masi), taken from IMDb
last photo in text: © by Paramount Pictures, taken from IMDb