Making a movie out of Baywatch sounds like a joke. If you’re actually going to make that movie, you’d better have a damn good take on it. Baywatch doesn’t seem to care if people think it’s bad, so it won’t be disappointed, but it also doesn’t seem to know it was supposed to do something with the material.
Unlike the great movies based on TV shows, Baywatch never decided if it was making fun of the show like The Brady Bunch Movie or 21 Jump Street, or celebrating it like Mission: Impossible or The Fugitive. It doesn’t so much try to have it both ways as it just doesn’t seem to understand there are ways at all. The movie knows that the show had a lot of slow motion shots of cleavage and butt cheeks, but it has no comment. It just notices. I assume sand grifters, manta rays and diamond smugglers were Baywatch episodes they reference.
Part of the story seems to want to call out the fact that lifeguards are not cops and they shouldn’t be investigating crime cases. That would be a clever way to take the overwrought show down a peg, but the film won’t commit to that. It’s way too distracted by other plots.
The cocky new recruit Matt Brody (Zac Efron) who needs to learn teamwork is a valid storyline. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) has the same The Rock bravado to whip Matt into shape. The out of shape Ronnie (Jon Bass) who makes the team with sheer heart and enthusiasm and gets CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) to like him seems like a very outdated storyline. Can’t men try harder than dancing silly and being good with computers? Like, how about asking CJ about her interests and listening to her?
If the goal was to make a big summer action movie of Baywatch, this was a missed opportunity. It ain’t Backdraft in the water. The rescues are frankly a TV formula collection of close-ups edited together. A CGI boat fire looks terrible. A fight in a baby’s bedroom is shakycam worse than Taken 3 so you really can’t even see the jokes. The grand finale is a generic climax on a platform.
Baywatch is R-rated just so they can insert the F-word into expository lines and insults. There are a few graphic sight gags. Ronnie’s penis incident pales in comparison to There’s Something About Mary because there’s no surprise. A morgue scene wears you down just for how hard it works to embarrass Matt.
I like this cast but they are all underserved. Rohrbach and Alexandra Daddario are great sports about what Baywatch really is, but they shouldn’t have to be. I’m guessing in 11 seasons, the show had to give the characters real personalities just by default of telling so many stories about them. The film’s characters could use some minimal direction, beyond, “Just improvise and we’ll cut it together.” Near the end we are told things about Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) that they never bothered to show in the rest of the movie.
If there were more than the obvious Easter Eggs for the series, I don’t know. Franchise Fred didn’t follow the Baywatch TV franchise, and this movie did not make me want to do further research like The Brady Bunch or Jump Street did. But, two hours of attractive bodies and a few grudging laughs may be enough reason to spend two hours in an air conditioned theater this summer.