MOVIE REVIEW: Baywatch
BAYWATCH-- 3 STARS
Contrary to how well the Mythbusters pulled it off, you can't shine sh-t, not turds of the TV or film variety. Terrible TV shows make terrible movies. Asking for anything more is asking too much, and there's nothing wrong with that. All of the zing and jiggle audiences enjoyed in eleven seasons and 242 episodes of Baywatch get the amplified and gaudy movie treatment an entertaining guilty pleasure deserves. Enjoy what you enjoy and don't be ashamed of it.
Towering in stature, dreamy with stoicism, and universally respected by all the locals, Dwayne Johnson's Mitch Buchanan is the unofficial king of Emerald Bay's Floridian beaches. He is the top lieutenant of the city's elite lifeguard team, flanked by veterans Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera of TV's Billions) and C.J. Parker (Sports Illustrated model Kelly Rohrbach). The time has come for annual tryouts when Mitch's pencil-pushing superior (Rob Heubel) forces him to take on disgraced-but-popular Olympic gold medalist swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron) as a new trainee and PR opportunity. Brody joins his flirting target Summer Quinn (Johnson's San Andreas daughter Alexandra Daddario) and the hapless geek Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass of Loving) as the newcomers under Mitch's tutelage.
The figurative murky water seeping into Emerald Bay stems from illegal drug smuggling being perpetrated by the decadently evil club owner Victoria Leeds (the live-action American feature debut of Indian sensation Priyanka Chopra, a nice get) and her unsavory security enforcers. Paraphernalia is cropping up on the beaches, along with dead bodies and clear-as-day clues that no cop, particularly Mitch's ribbing rival Sgt. Ellerbee (future Aquaman villain Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), seems to notice. Mitch and his gang take it upon themselves, in head-peeking crime-stopping Scooby Doo fashion, to gather evidence on Leeds and her operation.
Baywatch, from the director of Identity Thief and Horrible Bosses, exchanges many of the soap opera-level character notes (no after-school special bulimia, for example) and story tangents of the TV show for gushingly over-the-top R-rated gags and blockbuster-level thrills. Presented constantly in heroic camera angles, the broad shoulders and rippling physiques of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron handle those extra barbells of action and comedy without breaking a sweat. Progressively positive for 2017, their glistening quartet of female co-stars are refreshingly assertive without a hint of bimbo flooziness, even in the occasional and prerequisite slow-motion.
The dealbreaker for audiences is going to be Jon Bass as the schlub. He is introduced essentially as the walking embodiment of an elaborate penis joke and never lives it down. You will either dig that humor and love Ronnie's anxiously hilarious crush over C.J. or you will find his erection-deflating presence silly and annoying. The raunchy butts of jokes do not stop with Bass, as plenty of bits belly-flop hard. Away from the sand and waves, the gumshoe plot and increasingly terrible CGI effects unravel the film in a hurry after a breezy first half, but enough enjoyment is still easy to rescue.
LESSON #1: THE ROCK MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER-- I've said this for years, and I will say it again. The presence of Dwayne Johnson makes every movie better. With an R-rating and his buffness at his full disposal, the guy is having a blast as the quintessential tough guy god spouting teenybobber nicknames in the direction of Efron's balls for two hours. Take him out of this film and the entire thing completely bombs. This is a perfect spot for him and there is no substitute for The Rock.
LESSON #2: FINDING YOUR MOTIVATIONS-- Despite razor-thin backstories, each of the lifeguard protagonists are driven to prove themselves for different reasons. Mitch's leadership taps into those catalysts as the master motivator. The team emphasis is still front-and-center where each our central lifeguards will be essential for the climax.
LESSON #3: BEING A LIFEGUARD IS MORE THAN SWIMMING-- Like the TV show before it, this film is going to be an unrealistic Top Gun-level recruiting call for lifeguards, yet it shouldn't be. There are no bikinis, tans, and detective duties waiting inside an oyster surrounded by mermaids. Just ask this very writer who was a certified Red Cross lifeguard for four years across high school and college working the oh-so glamorous morning seniors shift at the indoor pool of his local YMCA. Brody (and myself twenty years ago) learned that it takes more than good swimming to do the job. It takes training and dedication, which make for rewarding work in its own way without the Coppertone glory.