Directed by Seth Gordon. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera. Running time 116 minutes. Rated 16.
Before starting this review, I decided to ask Google whether or not the Razzies (Golden Raspberry Awards, presented to the worst performances in film each year) have a category called ‘Most Unashamedly Unoriginal Movie.’ It turns out they don’t. No matter. There are still several awards that this film has a healthy prospect of getting its hands on.
Baywatch’s faith in knackered clichés is bemusing. Zac Efron arrives into the movie on a motorbike, wearing sunglasses and a leather jacket. Ronnie (Jon Bass), the film’s lovesick oaf, can produce nothing funnier upon meeting the beautiful CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) than incoherent mumbling. It might have worked in the corny TV universe from whence it came, but it falls far short here.
Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) is the leader of Baywatch, a team of lifeguards that assumes the role of assistant police force when the activities of a local crime gang become evident on their beach. Despite disgruntlement from Matt (Efron), an Olympic swimming champion required by the terms of a vaguely detailed plea deal to work with the team, and from the actual police force, they continue to flout the limitations of their job description in order to apprehend the villains. After much self-important gnashing of teeth, Matt begins to embrace the atmosphere of teamwork and interdependence engendered by the rest of the group, and the film’s central lesson is well on its way to being learned.
Elsewhere, romance rears its head in the usual ways; Matt’s self-assured charm fails to work its magic on Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), and Ronnie’s feelings for CJ lead him into a series of awkward (and painfully unfunny) encounters. In one surprisingly innovative sequence, he gets his genitalia stuck between the slats of a wooden beach lounger. The bit is dragged on for far longer than it should be, but it shows an element of imagination that the film could unquestionably have done with more of.
It is difficult to tell exactly what the producers of this movie intended to make. Long stretches of it are designed to feel like an action-based drama, but streams of attempted jokes make it seem more like comic farce. In any case, neither is executed well.
Baywatch’s plot is uninspiring, and its set pieces, trying desperately to come across as flashy and gasp-inducing, fail to impress. Its characters let it down just as much. While Efron does his best to inject charm into his impossibly one-dimensional cad, Johnson’s overzealous performance is almost reminiscent of his days as a pro wrestler. Short of providing plenty of footage for the film’s advertising campaign and acting as the obligatory love interests, the females are given very little to do; you’ll be doing well to remember each of their names by the end of the movie. The comedy, though frequent, is depressingly unfunny.
2018’s Razzies are scheduled to take place at the end of next February. While it’s possible that a series of films as dire as this will descend upon cinemas before the end of the year, I wouldn’t bet against Baywatch bringing home the spoils (as it were) in a category or two.