Baywatch Review: Danger Dick Jokes Ahead.
For the past 40 years, Hollywood has attempted to turn several beloved television shows into big budget films. Baywatch is the latest small screen to big screen adaptation. The original series aired on NBC from 1989 to 2001 and starred Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff. The 1990s were probably the biggest era for tv to film adaptations since The Brady Bunch, The Addams Family, Beavis and Butthead, and several others were released during that decade. While there have been at least a 100 different television shows turned into feature length films, most tv series to film adaptations aren’t exactly moneymakers for studios. I don’t want to spend too much time on this topic but for every 21 Jump Street, there are at least two or three films like The Honeymooners or CHIPS that fail to find an audience and bomb at the box office. I am curious to see where Baywatch falls but my prediction is towards the latter.
Baywatch follows Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), the head lifeguard assigned to oversee the beaches in the bay area. Mitch is very picky about his staff and takes his job seriously. One afternoon while training new recruits, Matt Brody (Zac Efron) shows up and informs Mitch that his boss, Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel) has assigned him to be part of the Baywatch team. While reluctant to accept him, Mitch is forced to give Matt a chance. They soon discover a series of crimes occurring on their turf. While Matt thinks this is a job for the local police, Mitch makes it his duty to protect his beach. This is where the fun supposedly begins.
If you have seen any of the marketing for Baywatch, you should know exactly the type of the film this is prior to entering the theater. While I went into this film hoping for the best, I couldn’t help but feel leery due to how unfunny the trailers and television spots for this film were. Like most, I am a big fan of Dwayne Johnson because the man just oozes charisma and is usually one of the strongest elements of any film no matter how big or small the role. Baywatch is the first film in a very long time that even Dwayne Johnson’s charm can’t save.
I find it almost impossible finding a place to begin when reviewing this film. You have a cheesy television show that seems like it should be so incredibly easy to adapt into a fun feature length film but what the writers came up with is anything but. I feel like the film has an identity crisis. It has no idea what it is or what it is trying to do. Baywatch is an action movie, then it becomes a drama and ultimately turns into a raunchy comedy with non-stop boob and dick jokes. Sadly, the film is not good at doing any of this and while the script tries to be self-aware, it even fails to succeed at that.
I lost count of how many times Dwayne Johnson called Zac Efron a member of a boy band or the name of a boy band. It must have happened at least six to seven times and every time the joke occurred it became more and more painful. Half of the film’s runtime is spent focusing on Mitch and Matt having some sort of argument or poking fun at one another. I cannot begin to describe how tedious these moments become. Johnson tries to make the bad source material work while Efron constantly looks like he is constipated whenever he is trying to put on his serious face. I think what makes this even more shocking is that Johnson and Efron don’t have any on-screen chemistry. A lot of films like this one rely heavily on the chemistry between the characters but here that is non-existent.
The main supporting cast consists of four beautiful and talented women and Jon Bass. All of their characters are incredibly underused and are usually the butt of many of the film’s awful and unfunny jokes. The only one of the five supporting characters that don’t seem to be used strictly as a plot device or sexual joke is Ilfenesh Hadera who plays Stephanie Holden. While Hadera doesn’t have as much screen-time as the rest of the supporting cast, she always seems to have a purpose to be on-screen. She kicks some ass and is the only female character that I felt wasn’t exploited in some way for being an attractive female.
Kelly Rohrbach‘s CJ has brains and yearns for character development but almost all her screen-time is spent showcasing how good her boobs look in that red swimsuit. I get it, it was a HUGE joke in the original show, but come on, Rohrbach has a charming personality so give her something to do. The same can be said about Alexandra Daddario, who plays Summer Quinn. Summer becomes the love interest for Matt and she does get a bit more character development in comparison to CJ but that doesn’t mean much. She again falls victim to tiresome boob jokes and being a motivation tactic for Matt.
Jon Bass plays the dorky yet lovable loser of the Baywatch family. Bass plays Ronnie, who feels like a character out of an 80s movie. He is that lovable nice guy that is afraid to talk to women. While I get what the script was going for, the problem is that in the year 2017, this isn’t funny or charming anymore. This has become such a tired and clichéd gag. Ronnie is the chubby and dorky guy that has a thing for CJ. I hated how the film downplayed his character as this bumbling idiot. You can make the character be afraid of talking to beautiful women, however, you don’t have to focus all the character’s jokes on his looks or his penis. I found myself offended in an odd way about how this character was portrayed. It’s like why does this likable average nice guy have to be the focal point of all the jokes. It wasn’t even like they were funny but instead bordered on just being mean-spirited and embarrassing. The scene where Ronnie’s penis gets stuck in-between a beach chair was beyond cringeworthy.
However, the film’s biggest disappointment is not the lack of chemistry, underdeveloped characters, the story, or even how bad most of the jokes are but rather the character, Victoria Leeds, played by Priyanka Chopra. Baywatch had a great opportunity to have a noteworthy female villain in a comedic film but the writers had no idea what to do with that either. Instead, the material makes Chopra say lines of dialogue like “I’m not a Bond villain…YET!” and when Matt calls her crazy in the final act, she replies with “If I were a man, you would call me driven.”
These moments of dialogue suggest that Leeds is going to become this awesome female villain but the script just downplays the idea. Leeds isn’t portrayed as smart nor can she do anything on her own. She always has men around to help assist her and can’t do anything without their help. Leeds uses her “sex” appeal throughout most of the film to lure men but that’s all there is to it. I found it pretty embarrassing watching such a gifted actress downplay her talent to be used as such a disposable character. It certainly doesn’t help that almost every scene Chopra is in features her wearing a revealing outfit which considering the source material was purely done to appeal to male viewers.
I have to wonder how Baywatch made it through test screenings without the film’s runtime being cut down to 90 minutes. The film runs almost two hours and during the second half just drags on and on. While the film does look good visually, that is probably the only compliment I can give this film. It is sad because I honestly could see ways that Baywatch would have been a fun comedy but the six writers couldn’t get past the infantile humor. I feel like everyone with the exception of Efron tried as hard as they could to make the material work but alas no one was able to make anything out of how little they were given to work with.
All in all, Baywatch is an unfunny mess with a huge identity crisis. It wants to be the next big action comedy but fails horribly. Baywatch is instantly forgettable and will probably bomb at the box office. I wish I could say something else positive about the film but even the outtakes during the end credits weren’t even funny. Baywatch is easily one of the worst films of the summer and one that I hope audiences won’t spend any of their hard-earned money on.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s rating for Baywatch is a 3 out of 10.