By Jack Dignan
2017 has been a rough year for comedy. Granted, every year sees a large handful of painfully unfunny movies hitting theaters, but as we approach the midway point of the year, things aren’t looking bright. We’ve had the likes of CHiPS, Fist Fight, The Boss Baby and Snatched, and these are just the films I’ve personally seen. There’s plenty of junk I either missed while overseas or just could not be bothered to see. While I did give Snatched 3 stars in my review, my fondness towards it has withered lately, and on top of that, it was met with a mostly negative critical reception. Now, we have Baywatch, hitting Australian theaters tomorrow, and it looks like comedy is taking an even further downhill slope this year (or at least until Baby Driver hits cinemas and redeems all of cinema forever).
Based on the critically acclaimed- I mean highly watched 90s TV show of the same name, Baywatch takes its semi-serious but completely far fetched source material and moulds it into a comedy for a new generation, in similar vein to the recent CHiPS and more successful 21 Jump Street franchise. We follow the story of famed lifeguard and literal superhero, Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson). He, along with fellow lifeguards CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), are in the midst of searching for new recruits to join their lifeguard team. They’re holding a series of grueling trials, where the best of the best compete it out for the top spot. Three new recruits get in: washed up Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron), no-fucks-given Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), and the determined but goofy Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass).
Soon after beginning at their new positions, trouble arises. Drugs have been washing up on shore, all relating back to Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of a local nightclub. Or bar. Or restaurant. I’ve honestly forgotten what exactly it is she owns, but it’s irrelevant. Dead bodies begin to mysteriously appear following the discovery of the drugs, the police refusing to believe it’s anything more than natural causes. The Baywatch crew is given no choice. They need to take matters into their own hands. Led by Mitch, and rivaled by Matt, they take their lifeguarding skills and use it to single handedly uncover a plot that goes far deeper than initially thought.
There are dumb movies, there are awful movies, and then there’s Baywatch. I went into last night’s screening expecting an abomination, so in certain regards, the film went up and beyond expectations, but in the scheme of things, that isn’t saying much. The film opens with a series of slow motion, sunset-bound shots of Dwayne Johnson rescuing the life of an injured swimmer, followed by a bold 3D title bouncing up out of the water in the most ridiculous fashion. It is, in every sense of the word, incredible. For as stupid and over the top as that one scene is, it sets the tone of what this movie should’ve been, and that’s a boatload of ridiculous fun. The 21 Jump Street movies, which no doubt served as one of the main inspirations behind Baywatch, work so well due to their tongue in cheek approach to the story. Baywatch tries, oh how it tries, but constantly stumbles back down to the ground.
In all fairness, the first half of Baywatch isn’t entirely intolerable. The cast really tries their best to make this movie work. Johnson is always full of charisma, both on and off the screen, so no matter how shitty the film’s he’s in are, they always feel at least mildly entertaining. And this goes for Baywatch. Despite nearly all of his jokes falling flat, leaving the audience in an awkward, numbing silence, you can’t help but appreciate his effort and natural likeability. He’s the film’s saving grace, delivering the comedic timing most of the other cast members fail to do. Efron plays the same character he’s played in his last ten movies, sharing clear comedic chemistry with Johnson, but rarely hitting as well as he should. His character’s story lays the fundamentals for an interesting character arc, but it’s one that’s never followed through, leaving the audience dissatisfied and somewhat cheated.
This film’s biggest problem lies in the fact that it has no idea what sort of tone it’s going for. It shifts frequently from crude to juvenile to mature, trying to be both a fun buddy comedy and a well-plotted (hah!) crime story. Character arcs make no sense, evolving out of nowhere for the sake of the plot, if plot is even the right word for it. It’s inconsistent in almost every department. Certain sub-plots are rushed over for the sake of its running time, most noticeably during a low-point in Mitch’s career, which feels like it should have had a far more significant impact on the plot than it actually does. He disappears for a fleeting moment of time, and the lack of Dwayne Johnson is definitely felt. It’s during his absence where it’s increasingly noticeable how poorly this film is able to stand without him. It simply can’t. He’s the glue holding this rocky, broken disaster together, making the movie almost passable when it really shouldn’t be.
Director Seth Gordon has a clear knack for beach photography, glorifying its gorgeous colours and never ending waves, but that’s about where his talents end. The rest of the film is a generically shot, poorly paced and abhorrently written excuse for a movie. The first half may have had the odd nose exhale here and there, but for the most part, it’s awful. Truly, incredibly awful. Not only does the plot make zero sense and the characters barely feel like real people, but this film is two hours long, and trust me, you can feel it. Once it hit that halfway point, the film looses what little interest I had left. I checked my watch a significantly large number of times throughout the second half, and it didn’t make the time go any faster. The onslaught of penis jokes and stupid comments really started getting to me, creating a feeling of relief upon competition of the movie.
Still unsure about whether or not to go and see this disaster? There’s just one thing you need to know. The same two people who brought you Freddy Vs. Jason and the 2009 Friday the 13th remake wrote this film. Their execution in both comedy and expertly plotted storylines has just become abundantly clear. If you care about quality cinema, or even your own physical wellbeing, I’d certainly recommend avoiding Baywatch. It’s for the best.
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