Running Time: 116 minutes
Written by: Mark Swift & Damian Shannon
Directed by: Seth Gordon
Featuring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass and Ilfenesh Hadera
Mitch Buchannon: “Welcome to Baywatch. Our team is the elite of the elite. We’re the heart and soul of this very beach. We protect when other people don’t want to protect, and we go above and beyond.”
The assault on the idea concept of comedy in movies continues with the release of the remake or reboot or whatever you want call this comedy abomination that is “Baywatch” (2017) out this week on DVD & Blu-ray.
Now I wouldn’t have said this movie was doomed from its announcement, especially with the early word that Dwayne Johnson was involved, someone who is not afraid to laugh at himself as well as carry a movie that needs some very big shoulders to support it. Its unfortunate then that the studio that released this, Paramount, decided to stick Johnson with a director as well as screenwriters that seem to have no clue to what they are working on. They also seem to have no idea on how to use their secret weapon, who is normally a charmer as well as someone who can deliver almost any kind of dialogue all while inviting the audience to come with him on some kind of journey – here however none of that works, so we have what must be one of the worst movies of the year so far, along with many other comedies that have missed the mark by a mile.
The movie starts out in Emerald Bay, Florida, Lt. Mitch Buchannon and his team of lifeguards, including second-in-commmand Stephanie Holden and veteran C. J. Parker, protect the beaches and the bay as part of an elite division known as Baywatch. Having made over 500 rescues in his career, Mitch is beloved by the community, to the annoyance of local beat cop Garner Ellerbee and Mitch’s superior, Captain Thorpe.
At the upcoming tryouts for new lifeguards, three people stand out: surfer Summer Quinn, an old friend of Holden’s, Ronnie, a chubby nerd with a crush on C. J. (that is gradually returned), and Matt Brody, a former Olympic swimmer who fell from grace after vomiting during a race and now has to perform community service as part of an unspecified plea deal. Quinn and Ronnie both pass the trials, but Brody refuses to do so and insists that his celebrity status alone entitles him to a place on the team. Despite Brody demonstrating his abilities by assisting in the rescue of a drowning woman and her son, Mitch complains to Thorpe that he is unfit. Thorpe, in turn, insists that rehabilitating his image is necessary to convince the city not to further cut Baywatch’s funding.
From here the plot if you could call it that becomes needlessly complicated as well as extremely crass, as it stands for no really good reason.
I have complained about the lack of good comedies that have been released this year, and “Baywatch” has to top the list of not only being humourless, but it even manages to mishandle the action elements that may have saved this from being extremely tiresome to watch – I watched this at home and found myself hoping for the end to come, it meandered from one tireless set up to the next without seeming to go anywhere at all. My feeling was that no-one really committed to a genre so each aspect of this movie is underwhelming.
Normally any movie, especially one that relies on personality or has to because the plot is absent, that has at its center Dwayne Johnson, is already ahead because he is just so charismatic as well as being able to make fun of himself means that he can be on the audiences side as well as being in on the joke. One need only look at the “Fast and Furious” franchise to see he is one of the only actors actually hamming it up, making those dreadful movies bearable for those of us that like the over the top nature that is inherent within those movies. “Baywatch” the movie, has not earned that so we are just looking at Johnson as part of this film not apart from it. The supporting cast is made up of both experienced as well as newish actors that all come off as one note and not appealing at all. So we have Alexandra Daddario, Zac Efron and Priyanka Chopra struggling with a plot as well as trope filled exposition while appearing alongside newbies Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass and Ilfenesh Hadera really not coming to terms with the kind of movie they are in as well as having very little actual screen presence.
The argument could be made that there was a similar situation with the original television show with some experienced actors as well as some very average novice actors. My argument against that, as well as illustrating the superiority of the television version is that it was a different time, 1989 to 1999, the show knew exactly what it was and the talent in front of the camera was vastly superior to the people we have now. Here is some of the talent involved in the series and its an easy argument with time on our side that these actors have at least more talent as well as huge screen presence than that of this poorly attempted translation, we have of course David Hasselhoff, Parker Stevenson, Billy Warlock, David Chavert, Alexandra Paul, Erika Eleniak, Pamela Stevenson and many many others. If there was a small percentage of their presence in this movie it would have been a far better watch.
Its not only in front of the camera where mistakes have been made, the writers (which is a generous title), Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, have only had two somewhat other successes, if they could be called that, which were the middling horror re-imagining (I am being kind) “Friday the 13th” (2009) and “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003). Both of these movies are genre pieces and are just updating other people’s work, which may have been the appeal here, but sadly there is nothing they have added to “Baywatch” to even make it remotely interesting. So it is here where the director should make some decisions to enhance what is a lackluster script, but this is where the inexperience of Seth Gordon shows. Sure he had a hit with “Horrible Bosses” (2011) but misfired with “Identity Thief” (2013) then in between has directed a lot of comedy televison which means he was trying to learn how to direct narrative on the fly, which again shows here in this movie, where he was probably stuck between his script his producers as well as his actors – I am not envious because what we have been left with is a mess of a film both narratively as well as plot wise with an inconsistent tone as well as a R-rating slapped on to make it seem edgy – which it is not.
The filmmakers needed to pick a tone and style then follow through on that, I can see why they chose some kind of action/comedy route, which worked well with the redo and big screen adaptation of the hit “Starsky and Hutch” (2009) but there you had writers, a director and most importantly stars who could handle the material and knew not only what they were doing but also what they were doing. This is yet another misfire from the studio Paramount who have not been able to buy a hit this year and the slate for the rest of the year looks dire as well.
This is definitely not worth a purchase and to be honest even if you could watch this free it is unlikely you would enjoy it; in fact if you watched it on a plane you would not be forgiven for walking out.
“Baywatch” is out on DVD & blu-ray now.