Starring Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. Rated 14A.
By the end of Baywatch’s first 10 minutes, we’ve already heard numerous characters tell each other—in true millennial lingo—that “zero fucks were given”. Sadly for the scriptwriters, the audience might agree.
Reprising the TV series’ outlandish plots of lifeguards banding together to fight serious crimes, Baywatch sees teen-heartthrob-turned-buddy-comedy-specialist Zac Efron star opposite Hollywood royalty Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. Repeating his Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates role—only this time in a wetsuit—Efron is the typical Vain Millennial, whose selfishness places him at loggerheads with the Baywatch team’s ethos. Johnson plays the enormous tough guy with a big heart (think The Fast and the Furious franchise—or, for that matter, any title in his filmography), and various attractive women star as various attractive women.
Think you’ve seen this movie before? You have.
With a plot that resembles the much more engaging TV-to-movie reboot 21 Jump Street (swap sand for high school hallways and the two stories are near indistinguishable), Baywatch fails where the police movie succeeds—and largely because it came later. While there might be plenty of gags in the script, there is, frankly, little that is original about Baywatch’s comedy. Sure, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II shines as Officer Ellerbee and Johnson’s gentle ribbing of Efron is occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but the film is built on overplayed tropes. A chubby nerd busting out sensual dance moves? Check. A leading man donning drag? Check. A whole laundry list of dick jokes? Check, check, check.
And if you think that it’s callous not to name the movie’s female stars, it’s largely because the film does a great job of ignoring them too. Describing bombshell C.J. (model-actor-golfer Kelly Rohrbach) with any adjective beyond “nice” is a reach, eager recruit Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario of San Andreas fame) is reduced solely to Efron’s love interest, and second-in-command Stephanie Holden (up-and-comer Ilfenesh Hadera) raises little objection when she is passed over for the role of lieutenant.
For all its flaws, though, this is a Baywatch reboot—which means that watertight plots and gender representation were likely pretty low on director Seth Gordon’s (Horrible Bosses) list of priorities. More important, perhaps, were the team’s beach bods, which are—true to form—bronzed and brazen. Carrying the film on his ample pecs, Johnson’s effortless charisma drives the movie along at a roaring pace, and the actors’ sense of fun is infectious. If you can stomach the taint jokes, Baywatch is exactly what you’d expect—a summer romp bursting with just enough camp to stop it from imploding.
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