Whatever else you could say about the Baywatch movie, the pretty people had fun making it, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what counts in a Baywatch movie? Come to think of it, I honestly don’t know what counts in a Baywatch movie. If we keep making these kinds of adaptations that may be a question we eventually have to answer. Whether ’tis nobler to make an earnestly mediocre homage to a mediocre series, or to try to go bigger, to satirize, to not just mimic the original but explore its appeal. Baywatch can’t seem to decide, but there was a blooper reel during the end credits so at least we know they had fun trying. Haha, The Rock can’t pronounce ‘coroner!’
Also, no Baywatch theme song? This all-time great early ’90s video montage was 90% of the reason people watched the show.
In this incarnation, directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) and written by six people, Duane Johnson plays Mitch (possibly just Mitch, I can’t remember if they ever said his last name), the head of the Baywatch lifeguards. He opens the film heroically saving a kite surfer from a dangerous bonking (his head against the jetty rocks) and then takes an expository tracking walk through his fiefdom. He waves to all the kids, greets a guy making a heroic sand sculpture of him — “Thanks for saving my sister, Mitch!” — and swats a dunk during a pick-up basketball game starring NFL players Arian Foster and Vernon Davis. “Not in my house, Arian!” he says.
It feels at first like this might be some kind of comment on how preposterously heroic Mitch was in the original — it was a better show if you imagined Mitch Buchannon as David Hasselhoff’s distorted self regard come to life — but eventually you come to realize that it isn’t a joke about Baywatch at all, just a joke about The Rock and how great he is. Sort of like when The Rock’s character calls Zac Efron’s character “High School Musical.” Get it? It’s funny because Zac Efron was in High School Musical.
There are lots of moments like that in Baywatch, where a hint at deeper analysis turns out to be a mirage. That being said, the part where The Rock told the sand sculptor to make his dick look bigger made me chuckle, and that’s basically Baywatch in a nutshell: good for a mild chuckle, pleasant enough, and easy to follow even if you’re super stoned. It’s not untrue to the source.
Zac Efron eventually shows up, as two-time gold medalist Matt Brody, now washed up after partying too hard and becoming some kind of TMZ trainwreck celebrity. Baywatch can’t decide whether it wants Brody to be Ryan Lochte or the story’s hero. It’s kind of funny when he’s the buffoon, but the movie inexplicably wants him to save the day and kiss the girl at the end. Oh thank goodness, for a second there I was worried the human Hydroxycut ad wouldn’t get exactly what he wanted!
There’s another subplot involving Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass), a doughy nerd who wants to join the Baywatch team because he’s in love with CJ Parker (now played by Kelly Rohbacher, SI swimsuit model and former Georgetown golfer), whom, he notes, along with New Summer (formerly Nicole Eggert, now Alexandra Daddario) “always looks like she’s moving in slow motion.”
It’s another feint towards self-referentiality, and Greenbaum seems like the perfect vehicle for the outside world to butt up against the weird bubble of Baywatch‘s reality, where everyone has glistening pecs and jiggling D cups and it’s up to the lifeguards to break up drug rings and capture escaped crocodiles — justice with a thigh gap! Efron’s character even notes this at one point, saying “It doesn’t sound like real life. It sounds like the plot of a bad TV show.”
Lol, nailed it! That’s when you realize, Baywatch has no interest in satire or parody, just the occasional fourth wall-breaking for an easy joke. Likewise, it’s hard to tell whether the atrocious, quick cut, shaky-cam fight/action choreography is meant to parody the Bourne movies (which Efron’s character mentions at one point), or whether it’s just badly done.
In any case, there are a couple of decent jokes, including a gag involving a dead guy’s taint, but nothing in the movie feels particularly inspired, like, say the 21 Jump Street movie’s approach to sending up the entire genre. Or the Brady Bunch and Addams Family movies’ approach, where the TV families are transposed to contemporary reality with all their quirks intact. The Baywatch movie mostly consists of excuses for the pretty people to move around enough to keep us interested, in case we have some time to kill. Like I said, it’s not untrue to the source.
The culmination of its missed opportunities comes during the end credits, in which the gag reel includes a montage of the actresses adjusting their cleavage and wedgies and joking about their outfits, which are more “sexy lifeguard” costumes than actual life-saving gear. They couldn’t figure out how to actually make that a joke in the movie though, which kind of says it all.