Baywatch (2017) (Review)

Baywatch was either going to be balls-to-the-wall fun, similar to the rebooted Jump Street film franchise with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, or an absolute disaster. Critics (and most audiences, believe it or not Mr Johnson) called time of death pretty early on, with the action-comedy emerging with savage reviews, ripping the film apart and likely contributing to its lacklustre opening weekend. What could have represented a bright spot in the summer blockbuster window became overcast fairy quickly, with the sequel explicitly referenced at the end of this film placed in severe jeopardy. I'll throw my hands up and admit I know absolutely nothing about 80s television series - aside from the heavily referenced red swimsuits and well known slow-mo - it is based on, so I'm going in with a fresh pair of eyes. Baywatch or don't watch? Find out below...

In Baywatch, the umpteenth film about family this year alone, we meet Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his team of lifeguards keeping the Emerald Bay, Florida safe. Alongside second-in-command Stephanie Holden (Iifenesh Hadera) and C.J. Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), the elite division require new recruits to help protect the beloved community. Joining the Baywatch unit is Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced former Olympian, Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie (Jon Bass); they must all learn how to work as a team, protecting the beach and helping to uncover a lethal drug smuggling ring, led by the new owner of the Huntley Club, Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), who may be to blame for the bodies washing up on the shore. Firmly positioning Johnson and Efron as the leads but placing enough eye candy for everyone to appreciate, is Baywatch anything more than flesh and cleavage?

The makers of this Baywatch have picked the most predictable, laziest route to proceed down; almost everything about this film screams conventional and cliched and idle and disappointing. The plot is ripped straight from the first (and second) Jump Street, unashamedly launching the planned franchise in the most formulaic fashion imaginable. It is utterly cheesy (in a rather splendid, self-parody sort of way) but negligent with its comedy, with the jokes veering between the male anatomy and which celebrity in the public eye Zac Efron looks most like at any given moment; it is hardly enthralling, inventive stuff. It provides a couple of chuckles and a few smiles but the comedy is ultimately forgettable and leaves a lot to be desired. I'd argue that Baywatch is a more entertaining than funny film and your enjoyment in it will largely depend on your expectations and what you are looking for in a Baywatch film.

A good handful of the flaws come down to the underwhelming screenplay. Damian Shannon and Mark Swift throw a lot at the script but struggle to make any of it stick, concocting a combination of genres - but none of them are memorable, solid or fleshed out enough; as mentioned, the comedy is underwhelming; the action scenes are completely forgettable and it is a struggle to recall any standout moment or sequence; the drama and emotion is never executed well enough, mainly because the end point and formula is so strictly adhered to that nothing comes off as a pleasant surprise. It's disappointing that the enjoyable moments that crop up every now and then are so forgettable, with so little able to be recalled even just a few hours after exiting the cinema. You do not come to a film like Baywatch for the characters but even they feel completely one-dimension and empty by the low, rock bottom standard set before by similar releases; it is like Shannon and Swift picked three adjectives for each team member and then relegate them completely, failing to do anything more with them. In fact, I had to google the characters' names afterwards: that is never a good sign. It is also crippled by its 116 minute runtime - although removing even half of the slow motion would probably decrease that by a solid 20. Even still, it's 30 minutes too long on top of that. You could muster a pretty spritely picture in 90 minutes but that extra runtime, and the struggle between act two and act three, only emphasises how stale this picture is.

One of Baywatch's saving graces is that is nails the tone. It never takes itself too serious and everything is rendered with a tongue-in-cheek, self-referential wink that you can appreciate. It is peppered with enough amusing set pieces - nothing hilarious, mind you - to provide and prolong an entertaining wave that you can ride if you let it sweep you up. The winning combination of Johnson and Efron who, even in the face of a poor script, allow their natural charism to shine and frequently save the day. We get glimpses of decency from the supporting players (Priyanka Chopra could be really great and you can see Bass genuinely trying, even when it falls flat) - but the script, again, affords them little to actually get their teeth into and truly impress us with. Seth Gordon is rather capable in the directing chair, highlighting the beauty of the setting and presenting a proficient piece in spite of the flaws.

I had really hoped Baywatch would be something akin to the wacky and eccentric picture the two Jump Street films surprisingly turned out to be. Instead, we are left with a lazy and desperate cash grab that is forced to get by on the natural charm of its cast, in spite of, rather than because of, the material they are given. It can be enjoyable and is better than the 20% Rotten Tomatoes approval rating, if your expectations are adjusted suitably. Happily ridiculous but ultimately lazy, Baywatch tussles with a poor script to make it to shore but it just about makes it - it won't inspire any excitement for that implied sequel or the need for a rewatch. Like a rainy day at the beach, you can still have fun but it's all a bit of a washout and will remind you of the better time you can have elsewhere.

Summary: Baywatch is a lazy, occasionally enjoyable summer popcorn flick that just about stays afloat because of the chemistry and charisma of Johnson and Efron, even when the script threatens to strand them out at sea.