Director: Seth Gordon
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera
Runtime: 1 hr 57 mins
Released By: UIP
Official Website: http://www.thebaywatchmovie.com
Opening Day: 1 June 2017
Synopsis: BAYWATCH follows devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchannon (Johnson) as he butts heads with a brash new recruit (Efron). Together, they uncover a local criminal plot that threatens the future of the Bay.
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood got to ‘Baywatch’ – seeing as how it has in recent years pillaged the vaults of its 70s, 80s and 90s TV shows to deliver big-screen remakes of ‘The A-Team’, ’21 Jump Street’ and ‘CHiPs’ – so here we are with the cinematic reboot of the series that was cancelled after one season on US TV but lived on to survive another 10 in syndication. And yet, even with the benefit of nostalgia, basing this feature update on the same cheesy sensibilities as its TV source material would likely mean narrowing its appeal to a very specific group of 40-something year-old men who grew up with its voyeuristic pleasures, which explains why director Seth Gordon and his screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift have instead opted for a self-mocking meta-throwback that seemed to be the winning formula for the ’21 Jump Street’ big-screen remakes/ self-parodies.
‘Why does she always look like she’s running in slo-mo?’ wonders Alexandra Daddario’s lifeguard trainee Summer of Kelly Rohrbach’s blond bombshell C.J. Parker, whose role used to belong to the TV show’s most well-known star Pamela Anderson. Oh yes, there is plenty of self-referential awareness here: exaggerating pretty much everything that made the old show popular (including each and every one of the lifeguard rescues that Dwayne Johnson’s head lifeguard Mitch Buchanan makes in between the central plot of drugs, shady business dealings and corrupt politicians), and then having Zac Efron’s sceptical new addition Matt Brody question why his colleagues insist on doing police work or how it all sounds like a really entertaining but far-fetched TV show. Just so you can’t call it daft, this modernised ‘Baywatch’ makes sure that it riffs on its very quirks, treading a fine balance between flat-out silliness and winking slyness throughout its 117-minute runtime.
But that is hardly the most sacrilegious difference from its source material; oh no, that ignominious honour belongs to how it has decided to make the males the butt of its jokes. Aside from Mitch, who is part-sheriff, part-community leader, part-Emerald Bay ambassador and all-round sun-shiny goodness, the other two males are somehow portrayed as lesser than their female counterparts.
Whereas Summer is strong-willed and feisty, her would-be suitor Matt is selfish and self-centred, a washed-up two-time gold medallist turned national disgrace (think Ryan Lochte) whom the late night television circuits call the ‘Vomit Comet’ after a night of drunken debauchery left him barfing in the pool during the Olympic team match. One of the film’s running gags has Mitch boy-band name-calling Matt – ‘One Direction’, ‘New Kid on the Block’ and even ‘High School Musical’ – so much so that the latter asks aloud why the former is ‘lifeguard hazing’ him. Not that Matt’s presence is a bad thing – indeed, after spending the first two acts sobering up to the meaning of teamwork, Matt eventually settles into a buddy-comedy dynamic with Mitch that effectively channels the chemistry between Johnson and Efron for a couple of laugh-out-loud sequences, where they tag-team to do some undercover investigation work – but the movie’s tendency to disempower its male characters is disconcerting to say the very least.
In fact, we almost feel sorry for Jon Bass’ pudgy sympathy recruit Ronnie, who not only gets embarrassingly tongue-tied around his mega-crush C.J., but also has to endure several painful gags about his erections, including one where he gets his genitalia caught up in a lounge chair. It is equally telling that Bass is the only one who ends up naked in the whole movie, no matter how harmless his little bit of ignorance about being in a co-ed shower may seem. Contrast the humiliation that Ronnie has to go through with the self-assuredness of C.J. as well as that of Mitch’s female deputy Stephanie Holden (Ilfnesh Hadera), and you wonder if the filmmakers’ conscious and deliberate effort not to objectify the female sex and even compensate for how the TV series used to had actually gone overboard. But then you get Priyanka Chopra’s scheming businesswoman slinking around in skimpy evening dresses and occasional shots of Summer and C.J. in their shrink-wrapped red swimsuits, and you realise that it isn’t confident to let go of its predecessor’s simpler pleasures.
If all this sounds like we are over-analysing what was really intended as a fun, silly summer comedy, it is precisely because ‘Baywatch’ isn’t confident enough of just being that. It isn’t content to be just dumb; it wants to be smart-dumb, or in other words, dumb but self-aware. It wants to let you ogle at its female bodies in bathing suits, but its fear of being called sexist means that it’ll rather score dumb-hunk jokes than dumb-blonde jokes. And last but not least, it needs to be outrageous, but all it turns out is being too cautious and scattershot. Worse still, it tries to be a bad-boy-made-good story, a buddy cop comedy and a raunchy R-rated affair full of F-bombs and dick jokes at the same time.
In all honesty, we wish it just let go and simply focus on being fun, political correctness and wittiness be damned, especially given how great company Johnson, Efron and the rest of the game cast seem. It has its pleasures to be sure, but the sum of these sporadically amusing but wildly uneven parts is barely worth a trip to the beach, babes or otherwise.
(Struggling between being winkingly sly and flat-out silly, between empowerment and objectification of the female sex, and between three different stories at the same time, 'Baywatch' is just barely amusing enough to justify a trip back to Emerald Bay)
Review by Gabriel Chong