Based on the hit, but knowingly cringey, 90s TV show, Baywatch takes on the task of updating it for the 2017 audience and transitioning it to the big screen. It was presumably aiming for a Jump Street style self-aware action-comedy, but instead seems to land halfway between self-awareness and taking itself too seriously, resulting in a jumbled mess.
The film’s threadbare and unclear plot essentially involves Zac Efron’s new recruit settling into the Baywatch team under Dwayne Johnson’s Mitch Buchannon. Confronted by the discovery of some drugs and a suspicious new resort owner (Priyanka Chopra), the team set out on a convoluted mission to set a stop to it.
At times the film succeeds in feeling like a knowing micky-take of its origin material, but then at others it seems to forget the absurdity of what is happening, especially in the preposterous action sequences, that are treated as almost entirely serious. The film also swings towards trying to be a ‘dumb comedy’, but while some jokes land, many don’t. Even the fun of the film’s cameos is taken away by their announcement in the opening credits.
I’ve personally never seen the TV series but its hallmarks are well known, and represented here. However, this is 2017 so some of its trademarks aren’t quite so acceptable to modern audiences, but the film doesn’t seem too concerned with that. The film, of course, features many close-ups of body parts, but to be able to get away with it (and not turn away half your audience), you would expect the objectification to extend to both genders. However, the film seems to go in the opposite direction, with the women wearing barely zipped up bikinis, but the men wearing t-shirts with their trunks. This is a different era to the 90s, and without the self-awareness, these occurrences are simply off-putting. The women get very little to do as well, with all of the big moments left to the men, despite the team being fairly even in its gender split.
The cast do well with what they are given, but are incredibly underserved with a predictable story and multitude of weak gags. One of the mildly better running gags throughout the film is Efron being called a multitude of tween-themed names by Johnsons Buchannon, with one in particular sure to be any Wildcat’s highlight of the film.
Baywatch never really seems sure of which way it wants to go and offers many (many) more hits than misses, but if you go in taking the film for one of the things its seems to be trying to be – a stupid comedy – and with a forgiving, optimistic attitude, you might just be entertained for a couple of hours (even then, its lengthy run time may strain your attention).