Seth Gordon’s film adaptation of the cult hit television show Baywatch is a bad movie, without a doubt. The comedy is lacking, the action is lifeless, the editing sucks, and it’s far too long. But there’s so much about the movie that almost works that it’s a bit of a shame that it never fully comes together as a whole. It’s a mess, but kind of a pleasant one, full of likable actors and good-looking locations, and as a result it never really becomes worthy of one’s hatred. But despite the pros, it’s a mess regardless.
Baywatch focuses on Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a lifeguard in Emerald Bay, Florida who leads an “elite unit” of lifeguards known as Baywatch. Buchannon and his team, featuring disgraced Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron), surfer Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), plump techie Ronnie (Jon Bass), blonde C.J. Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), and responsible smart one Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) happen upon a scheme to buy up all of the property surrounding the beach led by Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the owner of the prestigious Huntley Club. Drugs are also involved (specifically one called “Flocka”, which I can only assume was named after the rapper Waka Flocka Flame,) because this movie is desperately trying to be 21 Jump Street. The Baywatch team must overcome their differences and come together in order to save the bay from Leeds’ scheme.
I’m not trying to make an inflammatory statement with the Jump Street comparison. The movie takes a lot of its cues from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s modern comedy masterpiece, cracking jokes about the inherent silliness of the original show and working in a meta joke or two about “restoring the brand.” But Baywatch is ultimately very flabby and unorganized, with big character moments happening in ways that feel out of order, and at a 119-minute runtime is far too long and feels like it could have been trimmed down by fifteen or twenty minutes to something that would have felt a lot tighter and more enjoyable.
It doesn’t help that the movie is very poorly put together. There are major continuity errors littered throughout the film, which I would normally write off as me nitpicking, but they happen in shot reverse shot situations where one would think they would be fairly easy to avoid. The ADR work is astoundingly obvious, the green screen work is poorly composited, the CGI effects are among some of the worst I’ve seen, and bad cutting renders the action utterly lethargic. While this could easily be written off as a product of a low budget, the film’s reported budget is $69 million, which is large by comedy standards (for comparison, Central Intelligence, a much better comedy that also stars The Rock, cost $50 million.) I’d heard positive things about director Seth Gordon before watching this movie, with his documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and his comedy Horrible Bosses being recommended to me pretty frequently, and the movie being this badly made struck me by surprise as a result.
And the worst thing of all about Baywatch is that it just isn’t very funny. While there are a few chuckle-worthy recurring gags, such as Buchannon constantly referring to Efron’s Matt Brody by the names of boy bands, all of the film’s funniest moments were seen in the trailers. Entire stretches of the film go by without any jokes at all, or at least no jokes that got a laugh out of me or the surprisingly silent audience. It also doesn’t help that the comedy feels regressive at points, even tipping into homophobia for the sake of trying to get laughs out.
Which is a shame, because the cast is all likable and game for the material. The Rock is reliably charismatic (and muscly,) Zac Efron provides a good foil for everyone and sells his character’s attempt at an arc as best as he can (and is also quite muscly). Jon Bass happily embarrasses himself with physical gag after physical gag, but remains likable throughout the film and has solid chemistry with Kelly Rohrbach, who deserves a goddamn medal for her performance as C.J. Parker. Rohrbach is easily the highlight of the film, taking a character known entirely for her sex appeal and almost singlehandedly imbuing her with personality and wit, even if she still ends up as the trophy for Bass’s Ronnie. Alexandra Daddario and Ilfenesh Hadera are sadly not given very much to do, with the few comic scenes they’re given not amounting to much but shouting the work “fuck” a lot. Priyanka Chopra has fun with her capitalist villainess, but the character is essentially an evil straw-feminist, and Chopra deserves better than that. And there are cameos from Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff, but they could have easily been cut with no change to the movie whatsoever.
But despite the valiant efforts of the cast, who do their damndest to carry the movie past the finish line, it just can’t overcome the terrible direction and lack of laughs. I didn’t fully dislike the film, but it was a frustrating experience nonetheless. I wouldn’t recommend it.