Overview: A veteran lifeguard crew is disrupted by the inclusion of a disgraced Olympian just as a criminal plot is uncovered on their beach. Paramount Pictures; 2017; Rated R; 119 minutes.
Just Let Me Smell What He’s Cooking: Since Donald Trump was elected, there’s been a quiet joke building about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being the next celebrity president. It’s a fun fantasy, one I’ve indulged in conversation with friends and loved ones no less than a dozen times since last November. And everyone speaks about the hypothetical in the same tone, with the same smirk. But there’s more to it than just an imagined niceness. No one will say it’s impossible. There seems to be an unspoken cultural belief that maybe The Rock could win a presidential election, because everyone knows that everyone knows that the dude is just that likable. Well, everyone, it seems, except for Baywatch Director Seth Gordon, who, for whatever reason keeps getting in the way of his film’s star in every scene.
There’s no real need to expend over half of a script’s energy on a certain generic worship of Lt. Mitch Buchannon. One, The Rock’s inherent charm and stock likability shines on itself and there’s no need for every scene to yield allowance for another character’s spoken adoration of him (it is, admittedly, amusing in the opening sequence). But, secondly, the character still carries the residue of David Hasselhoff’s occupation in the beach-bound soap opera of the early 1990s, upon which the new film is loosely based. But that’s Baywatch in a nutshell, a film that trusts only its most superficial asset. Kudos to the casting department for what might legitimately be the most attractive screen collective in any 2017 film and Eric Steelberg for his framing of those bodies in the service of inappropriate jokes and lustful observation. But beyond that, Baywatch restricts itself from growing into something worthwhile within that aforementioned self-consciousness.
The Edge of Surrender In Sight: Alexandra Daddario, who plays young recruit Summer Quinn, has the sort of face that could work like an emotional exposition machine, a silent film era narrative expressiveness that challenges this film’s reluctance to look above her neck. Zac Efron, who stars as the wildcard shamed Olympian Matt Brody joining the team as community service, has better comedic timing than most comedians, but Baywatch never edits the rhythm properly around his delivery, and his best and funniest stretch develops when the movie removes Buchannon (and the script’s clumsy love for The Rock) from the proceedings. Prayinka Chopra plays the villain Victoria Leeds with a bit of glee, but the character’s plan is so nonsensical, her performance becomes a blurry smudge. Ilfenesh Hadera looks and behaves exactly like the strong and capable soon-to-be-leader that the script keeps promises second-in-command Stephanie Holden to be, but this promise is punctuated by a single punch and that’s that.
When Brody jokes early on that the team’s normal day-to-day sounds like something from an over-dramatic television show, there’s an indication that the movie might become one of those meta-textual exercises parroting known properties with just enough self-awareness to build room for self-referential humor, new character wit, and more innovative gags. Certainly, Gordon’s work on Horrible Bosses and Fistful of Quarters suggests him to be capable of something like Reno 911‘s spin on the old Cops-style police shows (a comparison which makes the story credit of Reno 911 alums Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant all the more disheartening to see) or the innovative Jump Street film series. Instead, the best we get is a semi-aware rehashing with dick jokes that might have landed better in the early 1990s, before the Farrelly Brothers stretched that formula out of utility.
Overall: Because Baywatch doesn’t trust itself, there’s nothing fresh enough here to please modern viewers and no reason to justify rebooting an original property that was always best cherished in the form of posters hung on the walls of pubescent boys in the days before internet porn.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures