Over the last year, my film criticism has evolved from optimistic to just above prudish, and I blame the modern trailer formula, which condenses a film to a highlight reel. I’m also aware I mention trailers in all of my film reviews, so for the sake of Seth Gordon’s go at “Baywatch,” I’ll speak bluntly. If you are familiar with any film starring Zac Efron and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made in the last 4 years (see “Neighbors” and “The Fate of the Furious”), you will be prepared for “Baywatch” and the checklist of sun’s out-guns out gags you’d expect from a film based on the 90’s television drama of the same name.
That said, I think what I enjoyed most about this revival/parody (?) was its self-awareness. Even if you’ve never seen an episode of the original series with David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson (who both make appearances in this film), you at least think of minimal swimwear, Coppertone and slow motion shots. The film knows what it is and what audiences expect of it, and it is exactly what the trailers make it out to be: the world’s longest dick joke (no pun intended).
Johnson plays Lt. Mitch Buchannon, leader of a team of elite lifeguards (Ilfenesh Hadera and Kelly Rohrbach) charged with protecting an ambiguous “bay” and its beach bums. Efron shows up as Matt Brody, a washed-up, former Olympic swimmer with two gold medals and a “me” attitude.
He and Buchannon clash over lifeguard tryouts, start to bond over lifeguard lessons and then save the day and the bay from the drug-dealing ways of Priyanka Chopra’s Victoria Leeds.
The plot’s predictable, but that’s the part I enjoyed the most. What? You were expecting a profound, philosophical and in-depth plot with political commentary? Relax, this is “Baywatch,” not a remake of the original IP, but still a good-looking hard-R excuse to buy a red bathing suit. Just look at all that beach. Look at all the hot extras, the hot leads, the hot sun. There’s also the appeal of watching the real star of the film, Tybee Island’s coastline, where almost all of the beach scenes were shot in February 2016. Everything is attractive, and thankfully, most of the material is funny.
I know kids love Johnson, but this R-rating should be taken seriously. The language features the usual but not superfluous f-bombs, but there is a morgue scene during which a male corpse’s genitals are explicitly examined. At first, I thought it was a bit tasteless, but once the shock passed, it became an unexpectedly funny moment that was just long enough for Efron to show off his range of disturbed expressions and Johnson to be the sturdy, trustworthy counterpart.
To be fair, “Baywatch” sports a pinch of class with a few nods and winks to let you know its absurdity is intentional and the premise will make critics roll their eyes. I think there’s some charm in that. In fact, I may see it again.