tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Baywatch’ Fails to Embrace the Absurdity

The film adaptation is about as memorable as the TV show, which is not a good thing.

NBHD movie 1-2 ticketsBaywatch follows Lt. Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) and his crew of lifeguards on Emerald Bay. The film kicks off with the lifeguard being made to add disgraced Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron) to his team, in spite of the athlete’s severe attitude problems. Brody, on his end, is completely baffled by Buchanan’s insistence on tackling matters that really should be handled by the police. He is forced to take part in an investigation involving drugs, corrupt politicians, and an ambitious real estate magnate that intends to take over the bay.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 5.27.49 PMNobody particularly remembers Baywatch for its storylines or its characters. When it comes up at all in the cultural conversation, it is almost exclusively for its visual signifiers: the women running in slow motion on the beach in bright red swimsuits. This film does nothing to better that reputation. Rather than take the opportunity to try and actually tell a worthy story within this heightened context, it delivers a forgettable plot that wouldn’t have felt out of place in the TV show, and then mainly adds a sprinkling of dick jokes.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 5.33.34 PMThe film doesn’t really commit to a particular direction. It might have sincerely tried to tell a story of lifeguards who keep getting caught up in bigger things. Or it could have completely embraced the absurdity inherent to the show, spoofing its elements at every juncture. It ends up doing a little bit of both. So we are supposed to marvel at these lifeguards saving lives and solving crimes while the movie simultaneously acknowledges that it’s all stupid and none of it makes any sense. This is a film that seems to try and call out the latent sexism in the way the original show might have treated its female characters, while not really doing anything to correct it.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 5.40.07 PMThe film ends up building itself around the tension between Buchanan and Brody, with the narrative arc largely involving Brody gaining respect for Buchanan’s unusual methods. Meanwhile, the female characters are basically decoration. They are prizes meant to be won by the film’s male characters. For all of their supposed competence, we hardly get to see these women do anything cool. Heroism is ultimately still reserved for the men. Even the one schlubby lifeguard gets to do something of more consequence than any of the female characters.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 5.36.36 PMBuchanan and Brody don’t even make for a particularly compelling pair. Sure, Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron are very committed performers that try hard to sell every joke. But the relationship depicted on screen is so unbalanced that the typical buddy rhythms don’t really work. Brody ends up feeling like a whipping boy, never really getting any good lines in. And the film never really decides just how stupid his character is supposed to be. No one else in the cast really gets to do anything good. At some point, its use of Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach just starts feeling exploitative.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 5.26.31 PMBaywatch is just about as memorable as the TV show, but that isn’t really a good thing. It has better lead stars and marginally better production values, but its halfhearted commitment to satirizing the elements of its source material means that a good chunk of it is actually just the kind of thing that the TV show would have done. If anything, its criminal investigation plot is actually less zany than something that Hasselhoff might have tackled once on the show. It feels like the film is coasting on the recognition that the Baywatch name gives, having little ambition beyond delivering all those same elements, even though it recognizes just how weak all of it is.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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