If you go back and look at the old Baywatch episodes, you can tell that not only was this show pitched by men, but men who were probably twenty-plus year subscribers to Playboy. Yeah, there were stories about sharks, diamond smugglers, and beachcombing thieves, Baywatch was merely an excuse to show pretty people, especially women in tight bikinis, trying to do things that lifeguards mostly do. It wasn’t anything special, but it was popular (so much so that people used to call it “Babewatch”, given that a lot of the cast members were former models of Playboy) and is a piece of the 1990’s culture.
Making a movie of Baywatch is a tough, but not impossible task. Sort of like how The Brady Bunch Movie was a parody, I can only see a Baywatch movie working in the same stance. The same idea had been adopted for movies based on Starsky & Hutch, CHiPS, and 21 Jump Street. Baywatch can fit within these other movies as they all share the distinction of being time capsules of their era by accident. Not that they were bad series’, but they could only embrace their setups rather then try to be one of the best. Let’s see if Baywatch can make the cinematic translation.
In Emerald Bay, Florida, Lt. Mitch Buchannon (played by Dwayne Johnson) runs the “Baywatch” lifeguard patrol with both an iron fist and a high ego. His fellow guards include C.J. (played by Kelly Rohrbach), and Stephanie (played by Ilfenesh Hadera) are holding their annual tryouts where several hopefuls come to join the team. Newcomers include the geeky Ronnie (played by Jon Bass) the quick-thinking Summer (played by Alexandra Daddario) and Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (played by Zac Efron). Matt had disgraced himself in the last games to the point where his lifeguarding is a part of a plea deal for community service. Mitch isn’t too happy to have him on the team, but his superiors tell him to deal with it.
After an incident where they all save a bunch of people from a burning yacht, a body on board is identified as a city official. Mitch starts to see this along with bags of drugs washing up on shore started to happen when businesswoman Victoria Leeds (played by Priyanka Chopra). Despite being told that the crimes are out of their duristiction, Mitch, Matt, and the rest of the Baywatch gang try to see if Victoria is behind all of this.
Let me make this clear. Baywatch is dumb…but the movie is completely aware that it’s dumb and honestly has fun with it. It’s clear that the movie is trying to replicate 21 Jump Street where not only is a comedy, but goes for the R rating to allow F-bombs and a couple of penises on screen. Does it all work. No, but there is a lot of moments where I laughed. The film does it’s best to utilize it’s stars, especially the comedic potential with Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron.
That is probably its biggest strength…the stars. I know nothing about the Baywatch series, but I’ll guess that it took some creative liberties with their characters. I doubt there would be someone as geeky as Ron or dumb as Matt was on the series. Again, the movie is a parody and understands that by embracing it’s own madness, it has a better chance. What’s odd is that my favorite was the villain, Priyanka Chopra, who carries a lot of charisma for an actress I haven’t heard of (No, I haven’t seen her Bollywood work). I hope she becomes more prominent.
What prevents Baywatch from reaching the same levels as 21 Jump Street is it’s story and pacing. While there is nothing wrong with a drug invasion story, it still feels too standard and confining for the world it’s in. At one point, they point out some plots of the old TV show that I wish I’d see used for the movie (like surfers smuggling diamonds). The pacing unfortunately drags to a two-hour movie that not only makes it too long, but allows a lot of unfunny jokes to stay. In fact, there were a couple of characters that if you were to cut out (like Ron and C.J.), I don’t think it would have affected the story. At least a half hour should have been cut.
I’ll give this three and a half lifeguard rescue tubes out of five. While I’m glad I saw this movie, it does get lost a couple of times. Though it could have used some more saving, it does enough to stay afloat.