I never really watched the 90s phenomena that was Baywatch and therefore don’t really remember anything about it outside it’s massive pop culture reach as Saturday night softcore porn. I remember being a student, the Baywatch theme would play on every single night out. All the men would take off their shirts and start spinning it above their head in a display of lvl. 1 mating ritual. Being taller than most, the initial drum beats of the song meant I had seconds before I would start getting slapped in the face by sweaty T-shirts. Unfortunately, by this stage of the night, most of the women had already left or were at the bar getting drinks. The song would end, the shirts would stop spinning and suddenly there would just be a dancefloor full of awkward topless men. They’ll be ready whenever you need a friend.
Produced and starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Baywatch is the big screen adaptation of the TV series that attempts to ape the formula set out by 21 Jump Street, playing as both a homage to the original source material but mostly an ironic self-aware pastiche. The fun of 21 Jump Street was that the audience and film makers were on the same page in how the story was basically a pointless remake of an old TV property that mostly everyone had forgotten about. This allows an in road for a more modern audience to poke fun at the way things are now with the way things were.
You have Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson at Lt. Mitch Buchannon. He leads the Baywatch team, comprising of quirky Mr quirksome CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) and his second hand woman Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), together they keep watch over the beaches, saving lives whenever necessary. The team enlists three new recruits in the form of Summer (Alexandra Daddario), lovable nerd Jon (Ronnie Greenbaum) and bad boy gold medal winning Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Effron). When bags of drugs start washing up on the beach, The Rock must figure out what is happening on his beach and bring his team together into one cohesive unit in a plot that involves an evil real estate woman (Priyanka Chopra). Being a life guard, does he really have the chops to become a vigilante of justice?
Well that’s where the ‘with hilarious consequences’ part comes into it.
Despite this being an ensemble comedy, Baywatch is pretty much the Rock’s movie. I have enjoyed the Rock in movies of course, like everybody else, he’s got charisma, action chops, a self aware sense of uber masculinity and this stupendously hulking physique that kind of demands to be seen on a big screen. Even a distinctly average movie can be improved by the Rock’s mere presence. See the Fast & Furious movies or that awful sequel to Get Shorty in which he was paired against Vince Vaughn.
Being producer, the Rock dominates Baywatch from the opening. We see him spring to action to save the life of a hapless surfer. He steps out of the water, carrying the body, stern in face and the titles Baywatch explode into the background along the horizon. I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be funny or badass, but the titles may have just said Dwayne FUCKING Johnson.
Watching Baywatch, I began to gradually feel that I was watching a vanity project, a mere vehicle to power Johnson’s all out assault on movie audiences. This is just the first of many projects he is getting behind following the success of Fast & Furious and San Andreas. Popular cinema over recent years has lost the ability to launch a movie solely on the reputation of a leading actor or star. Will Smith was the last bankable name to have this ability to bring in the audiences but even that name isn’t as strong as it used to be. Like those 90’s Will Smith movies, with Baywatch I got a familiar sense of ego with the Rock to the point I began to feel that much of the movie was geared towards painting up Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson into the man, the absolute pinnacle of masculinity, the raddest dude on the planet.
Nobody seems to have told The Rock that star power doesn’t necessarily work anymore in making movies successful. With the amount of movies he is working on, he seems determined to gain box office dominance by adhering to the Will Smith playbook. Best of luck to him, I guess. This is the kind of guy who famously gets up everyday at 4 in the morning to work out.
He’s paired against Zac Effron’s – a washed up Olympic athlete. Whilst the Rock is the alpha daddy, Effron is this damaged hard drinking bad boy, who needs all the life lessons he can get from Johnson’s dedicated life guard. Effron’s character routinely fails to step up to the mark, whilst the Rock frequently saves the day again and again. This makes Johnson’s character into this kind of flawless being, and whilst there are worse dudes with egos to inflate. Sometimes it just felt a little bit off.
Witness, how the Rock is able to beat Zac Effron’s character in a test of strength by lifting massive tyres. Badass! Look at his muscles! Watch how the Rock’s left hand woman, who is basically Zoe from Firefly – strong and stoic, but even she is forced to look longingly at The Rock after an impromptu diversionary kiss awakens some kind of romantic feeling within her brain. Such is the power of The Rock. The romance is never played out, though I guess they’re all hoping to ‘develop’ these points in the sequel.
It begins to grate, like we should all be in awe of his character. This life guard who basically poses as a vigilante cop/detective. This is a funny concept to play with for a Baywatch movie, but the story seems to fall short in pointing the joking finger at it’s flawless lead. The screenwriters should be telling us ‘this guy is fucking weird, he’s just a life guard, he shouldn’t be solving crimes!” Zac Effron’s character does point this out frequently, but his character is painted as this tragi-comic figure it always comes back to one of the Baywatchers having to provide him with advice. Unlike the Rock, Effron’s character has to be fixed. I was expecting there to be some backstory that revealed Johnson’s character to be failed cop or soldier, something that would give this perfect being some substance, but no. He’s the Rock and he’s just awesome. Nothing complicated here.
It’s strange, because Zac Effron is this big name, he’s a great actor, plus he can sing and dance like an old school Hollywood actor of yester year. Arguably he’s more talented than the Rock, but all he seems to do now is make these frat boy comedies. Next to the Rock, he of course has this comedic bromance you’ve seen in countless other movies. In one scene, the dudes are thinking about their balls, Effron’s character adopts a squeaky high pitched voice for his balls, the Rock is obviously this deep voice who wants to go in and start punching people. This should be a straight/funny guy pairing, but the movie never really settles on defining roles for each other. So at many junctures, Effron’s character is just there for comedic relief, in one scene he turns up in drag for no real reason, in another scene he touches a dead man’s penis, in another scene dissolved human body fat drips into his mouth. He’s basically a Sean William Scott character. Given the actor’s history, it seems he could be doing way more.
The female cast are largely secondary to the male leads. Though the movie does at least go to some lengths to develop them as characters rather than cleavage. Kelly Rohrbach proves to have good comedic timing as a kind of updated version of CJ Parker. Of course, she has to run in slow motion at points, she has a romance with the dork, who frequently gets erections in her presence and at one point gets his junk stuck in a deck chair, because of course he does. There is a recurring joke throughout, that CJ has untreated daddy issues and is holding a lot of rage back. Alexandrio Daddrio on the other hand has the most astounding blue eyes, which seem to pierce through Effron’s bullish sexual advances. For the most part however, Baywatch feels more like the Rock Johnson/Zack Effron show, whilst the women are by in large treated as eye candy. I guess it had to deliver on the promise of the original show.
Baywatch isn’t terrible, but it’s nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. Whilst some of the humour did have me rolling my eyes, I cannot deny that I didn’t laugh at other parts. This is perhaps the most you could have expected out of a movie based on a kitschy show from the 90s in which beautiful scantily clad people ran across beaches in slow motion. A more innocent time before internet pornography.
Just put your shirt back on, because I don’t think we need a sequel.