If you’re like me, you remember the concept of Baywatch more than the actual show. David Hasselhoff and women in skin tight swimsuits solved crimes as lifeguards on the beaches of Los Angeles. Somehow that was a premise good enough for over a decade of television episodes. If there’s a property that seems ripe for a comedic parody film, it’s this one.
In this adaptation of Baywatch, Dwayne “The Hulk” Johnson takes over Hasselhoff’s role of head Emerald Bay lifeguard Mitch Buchannon, whose job becomes a bit more frustrating after his boss (Rob Huebel) sticks him with arrogant Olympic Swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron). When a club owner (Priyanka Chopra) begins smuggling drugs on their beach, Mitch and fellow lifeguards Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), Summer (Alexandra Daddario), and chubby oddball Ronnie (Jon Bass) take on the role of self appointed beach vigilantes to try and stop her, much to the dismay of actual area policeman, Garner Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
Marketing itself as a comedy for wide audiences and not just fans of the television series, poking fun at the fact that the original cast carried themselves as if they were filming Law and Order, and not a cheesy drama that was just a reason for people to gawk at supermodels, should’ve offered the opportunity for heavy laughs. And yet, the cast of this film version of Baywatch operate almost exactly like their small screen predecessors. Throughout the movie, it is reinforced that this should be a job for the police and that Mitch and his crew are out of their league. Instead of at least crafting a resolution to show that both sides could help each other in protecting the bay, the movie ends up being a tale of superhero lifeguards who can and will recklessly take matters into their own hands with positive results. And maybe that was the point, for Dwayne Johnson and cast to embrace the ridiculousness of the source material by attacking it with the same seriousness. The problem with that is that it makes Baywatch the movie as terrible as the TV show.
Instead of being a spoof, the film wants to be an action movie with self-reverential humor and carries itself as if its rescue sequences are actually intensely thrilling. But the entire time it just feels like you’re being told a boring, over exaggerated story that might be more interesting if you were a lifeguard. It doesn’t help that many of the scenes don’t feel remotely realistic due to an overuse of green screen, which just seems lazy considering the movie is set on an LA beach.
Occasionally the movie makes up for its atrocious attempt at being exciting by throwing in some good laughs. But there aren’t as much as you’d think. The movie follows my comedy pet peeve of having its biggest laughs in its trailers and too often it relies on gross out humor or Jon Bass’ character being the awkward antithesis of the typical Baywatch lifeguard. And it’s a shame, because we know from past films like Central Intelligence and Neighbors that Johnson and Efron are capable of being hilarious with both delivery and physical comedy.
So if you’re expecting a comedic parody, you’ll only be satisfied about 20% of the time. As for the purists, I’ve never met an actual fan of the TV show so I don’t know if it’ll be pleasing to them. Sure, the men look like gladiators and the woman are stunning, but who the hell cares if you have to sit through two hours of lousy plot and cheesy action?
FINAL GRADE: D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities