Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) leads the elite Baywatch team of lifeguards in South Florida. He is reluctant to add disgraced Olympic champion Matt Brody (Zac Efron) to the team, but with drugs and dead bodies turning up on the beach, Mitch will need all the help he can get to find out who’s responsible.
As a religious viewer of the legendary 90s TV Series, it pains me to say that Baywatch is an all-around disappointment. Whatever promise of fun and adventure the trailers suggested are barely visible within the actual Film. What’s left is a mass of underdeveloped ideas and jokes that could and should have been revised after the first draft.
There are two credited screenwriters and four credited story writers on Baywatch – and it feels like all six had every intention of turning Baywatch into the next 21 Jump Street. That Movie went all in on its absurd premise and mocked the very idea of reimagining an old TV show for modern film audiences. Baywatch attempts to do those things, but lacks nearly all of the charisma, comedic timing and self-parody that made a done-in-similar-vein 21 Jump Street and its Sequel so wildly-entertaining. Worse, the laughs here are too few and far between, unless you consider two hours of Johnson using ocean and swimming-related puns comedic gold. Yes, there are some moments that are truly hysterical, but far too many jokes fall completely flat (as do the plethora of archaic pop culture references).
I would forgive the limited laughs if Baywatch had any proper idea of what to do with its large ensemble. Johnson and Efron are the Film’s leads, but they never quite gel into their roles as optimally as they should. Outside of looking spectacular, Kelly Rohrbach and Ilfenesh Hadera do barely anything. Their importance to the team is mentioned in passing, but we are never afforded the time to see or understand why. Alexandra Daddario is emphasized for being the best new recruit early in the Film, but then spends the rest standing in the background. Jon Bass and especially Quantico’s Priyanka Chopra are the only ones who seem in tune with Baywatch’s uneven tone, and make even their most ridiculous moments stand out. But the Film only uses them sparingly, making some of their appearances feel like an afterthought.
Looking past contradictions in character traits, subpar CGI, obvious green screen effects, and the preposterous notion of giving away awesome cameos in the opening credits, what I do admire about Baywatch is the diversity in its casting. Johnson as the lead? Chopra as the Film’s villain? Hadera as the second-in-command to the Baywatch team? Future Aquaman villain Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the cop Johnson and Efron keep getting in the way of? This kind of casting does not happen as much as we might hope, so it was genuinely refreshing to see multiple ethnicities represented here in key roles.
If you head to Baywatch with the hopes of seeing beautiful men and women in swimsuits and revealing outfits, then you will enjoy yourself immensely. If you are hoping for genuine laughs and a coherent storyline, you may want to look elsewhere. Baywatch was a promising comedy in theory, but sadly feels like a missed opportunity.
Paramount Pictures Canada release BAYWATCH on Thursday, May 25, 2017.