Baywatch (2017) Review

"Dead in the water"

by Steve Pulaski

Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article

Much like I'd assume indulging in a TV Land marathon of the 1990s show on which it is based, Seth Gordon'sBaywatch is an ass-numbing slog, one minute shy of two hours but about 119 minutes shy of a good joke. Continuing in the long line of Hollywood movies made from second and third-rate television programs (The Dukes of Hazzard, Bewitched, and this year's CHiPS just to name a few), Baywatch adheres to the decidedly low quality standard of those films by exhausting its budget on its two leading men, a handful of action setpieces, and Photoshop skills in order to make the features of co-stars Alexandra Daddario, Ilfenesh Hadera, and Kelly Rohrbach pop as if they exist in some man cave of male masturbatory fantasy. To watch this film for 119 minutes was a grueling task, but could you imagine subjecting yourself to star in it?

If you came to see anyone else besides Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron prove that they can indeed wear out their welcome and make for obnoxious, unfunny screen-presences contrary to their beefy resumes, you're in for one of many disappointments. Despite the geniality of Jon Bass and the frequently charming Kelly Rohrbach, they, as does most of the Baywatch crew, take a backseat so Johnson's Mitch Buchannon can endlessly rattle off condescending nicknames to Efron's Matt Brody. This is one way Baywatch proves that if you set low standards for your film early, by repeating a mediocre cheapshot and pass it off as the core humor of the film, they will continue to deteriorate and prompt the opposite effect you're seeking for your film.

Directed by Seth Gordon
Cast Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario
Release Date 25 May 2017
Steve's Grade: D

The story revolves around the Emerald Bay lifeguards known as "Baywatch," who not only take their jobs too seriously but are allowed to thanks to corrupt, lackadaisical law enforcement that allows them to go above and beyond the call of the ocean despite consistently bashing them for it. Lieutenant Buchannon runs the squad of impossibly attractive glamour models like C.J. (Rohrbach) and Stephanie (Hadera), but get some help when they hold tryouts and accept the spirited Summer (Daddario), the bumbling but earnest Ronnie (Bass), and the cocky ex-Olympian Matt Brody as the newest members of the lifeguard team.

Buchannon has been hellbent on trying to pinpoint the source for the sudden rise in designer drugs that have washed ashore on Emerald Bay, particularly the heavy duty "flocka drug," which is said to be "bath salts on meth." On top of trying to infiltrate the usual drug ring, Buchannon and his team try hard to ready the new recruits for the action at the Bay, but have a difficult time trying to reach Brody. Despite falling out of favor in the public eye and failing his country, Brody believes that his PR will be saved if he can do some good on the Baywatch team, despite not having the real motivation to try.

This leads to the film's most fatal flaw - its over-reliance on Buchannon and Brody, who might as well be the same meathead character despite their wildly different appearances. Johnson proves he can, for once, be unlikable as an overly involved machoman that belittles and demeans Brody, and Efron shows that even if he might show promise in films like At Any Price and We Are Your Friends, hey, the checks cash just as well and even prove more plentiful with trash like this.

When the film cuts to Ronnie, who is shamelessly entranced by C.J. and her impossibly attractive beauty, it's simply a breath of fresh air to see new characters, and it helps that both of these actors seem fairly committed. Bass tries to make the most of a thankless role, as does Rohrbach, who is given even less and can't exist in a shot without Seth Gordon's camera embellishing her breasts or protruding, toned buttocks so frequently that it would be less obvious if we saw his drool fall onto the lens. Other characters like Stephanie and Summer are almost entirely useless vessels that exist just so Buchannon and Brody can call on them whenever they get tired of hogging the limelight.

Another dismal aspect about this overbudgeted, underwritten mess is its comic laziness. Making up much of the film are anatomical jokes, which surprisingly initiates more male nudity than female nudity, as well as heavy action spectacle, rampant sexualization of both men and women (but mostly the latter), tired homoerotic humor between the two male leads, and prolific use of profanity. All of these are common in modern raunchy comedies, but it also takes a certain wit and soul to employ them. Screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift severely lack that skill, and instead make a hopelessly vulgarian mess that only begins to take effect when it subtly (and I mean subtly) recognizes the stupidity of making a Baywatch film in 2017.

But in order for Baywatch to have been successful, it needed a lot more of that self-awareness. Studios have looked at the recent success of 21 Jump Street and its sequel but have failed to understand that it wasn't the property being resurrected that got people to see it and embrace it inasmuch as it was the chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, the self-referential humor, and the presence of an actual, engaging storyline.Baywatch, in contrast, is utterly miserable, and dead in the water after half-an-hour of falling back on vulgarities and failing to even acknowledge its source material in any meaningful way.


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