Movie Review - Baywatch (2017)

There have been a rash of film adaptations of TV crime dramas over the past few years. This is in fact the second of the year. The first was Dax Shepard's Chips. It wasn't held in high regard, but that film was far better than this one. I don't know why the impulse is to make these adaptations comedies and stupid comedies at that, but every cop show comes to the silver screen to be mocked with mostly dick jokes. Decades after the TV series on which this movie is based, it's difficult to take the premise seriously, but it doesn't mean the writers or even director, Seth Gordon, couldn't have tried.

The direction or tone chosen isn't necessarily wrong. It's just that the filmmakers never go far enough with it. The problem lies in its protagonist. It's a wonder if Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was in mind when this movie was being written because the movie seems almost tailored for him. In that, it treats his role and his position with too much reverence and too much kinship to his real-life persona without him ever being the butt of any joke. The movie simply wants Johnson to be cool and awesome for too much of the time.

Dwayne Johnson (Fast Five and Moana) stars as Mitch Buchannan, the head of the lifeguards at Emerald Bay. He basically has the role of David Hasselhoff but Hasselhoff's character was an actual lieutenant in the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Lifeguard Division. Johnson's character is jokingly referred to as lieutenant in name only, a self-proclaimed lieutenant, which only aides a plot point later but makes no rational sense. Otherwise, the opening sequence shows how beloved Mitch is, how perfect he is, how beautiful and flawless he is and how everyone holds him up on a pedestal.

Throughout the film, he never makes any mistakes. The movie never really allows for Mitch to look bad or mess up. Johnson therefore isn't playing an actual person. He's basically doing the same shtick as he's done in The Fast and the Furious franchise, which is fine because those movies had other things to lean on like the over-the-top action scenes and incredible car chases. This movie doesn't really have anything else to lean on, except the charm of Johnson and that's not enough.

It's not as if Johnson can't be in comedy or can't be funny. He was great in Central Intelligence (2016) because that movie subverted his big, buff, action star identity and in many ways satirized it. Here, the filmmakers don't subvert or satirize that identity. They feed into it or fellate it. As such, Johnson is never given any true comedy to play. He's not given any kind of character arc either, so he doesn't even have anything dramatic to play either. In the TV series, Hasselhoff's character was a father, an aspect that's been cut here and no reason as to why.

Zac Efron (Neighbors and Hairspray) co-stars as Matt Brody, ostensibly Mitch's surrogate son. Matt is an Olympic swimmer who's lifestyle resulted him getting kicked off the Olympic team and losing his sponsors. That dynamic of their relationship is never developed enough to mean anything. There is a moment when Mitch and Matt kiss as to suggest a possible bromance, but that dynamic is never really developed enough either.

There are several other characters, but neither of them are developed enough for the audience to care about them at all, especially the female characters. The movie is mostly plot pausing for cheesy action or lame gags. As mentioned, most of those gags involve the penis. Of course, the inherent homophobia of one man touching another man's penis can't help but be played here. At least, here it's less homophobia as it is necrophobia.

Jon Bass (Loving and Big Time in Hollywood, FL) plays Ronnie Greenbaum, the slightly overweight lifeguard who's more the comic relief for the fact that he is the least in shape of the other lifeguards. The movie takes every opportunity to show off his pudgy physique. We also get the trope that because Ronnie is pudgy or a bit of a tech guy that he doesn't know how to talk to girls. Yet, it's not funny because it's a trope and a stereotype that's been done to death.

It's a trope that TJ Miller in fact shattered in Silicon Valley. It's not that Miller is as overweight or as pudgy as Bass, but that idea that a tech guy is awkward around girls is one that Miller subverted, so it is not funny here, especially because it's done with as little character development as is done with Ronnie.

Again, without characters or well-developed characters, movies like The Fast and the Furious franchise or the Mission: Impossible franchise can still succeed by leaning on something else. Given that this film is a comedy, one would hope it has good jokes or gags to lean on. This movie doesn't have that. The best it can offer is the occasional penis but it can't even get that right.

Back in the 1990's, Dennis Rodman was modeling some underwear with Cindy Crawford on a MTV show and during the show, Rodman got a full-on erection. He wasn't really shy about it. He didn't try to hide it. He just stood there and let it be erect. That was funny. Here, Ronnie experiences an erection during a Heimlich maneuver and he tries to hide it, which results in a lame gag of him getting stuck, and it literally falls flat. Not only that, it also went on for too long.

The TV series was all about the rescues. The filmmakers could have lampooned the rescues, but, oddly, the movie decides to be a bit more serious when it comes to the rescues. The rescues are pretty straight-forward and designed to make Johnson look cool and awesome, but there's nothing funny about them. There's no interesting stunts or many pratfalls even approaching comical. At least in Chips, Shepard tries to make his action scenes comical with one-liners or pratfalls to jazz it up. This movie does not.

The rescues from the original series are nothing to write home about, but they were more entertaining than anything here. The rescues in NBC's Chicago Fire are more interesting and thrilling than anything here, and I don't think the NBC series has a budget anywhere near the budget for this wannabe blockbuster.

Rated R for language, crude sexual content and graphic nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 56 mins.

Now available on DVD / VOD.

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