There is something great about watching actors on screen who seem to be having fun. Their enjoyment turns into our enjoyment, elevating what might otherwise be a mediocre film to something better. That is precisely what happens with “Baywatch,” as Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, and the rest of the cast yuck it up on the beach and show once more that a TV series can be turned into a successful movie.
Okay, so let’s get this out of the way right up front – “Baywatch” isn’t “Lawrence of “Arabia” or “Citizen Kane,” it is a lot of sophomoric humor delivered by people in bathing suits. The CGI effects aren’t great, and the more serious moments of Matt Brody’s (Efron) story really deflate the whole thing, but when Mitch Buchannon (Johnson) and company are running around the beach stopping drug smugglers and an evil real estate plot, it’s highly enjoyable.
Yes, of course there is someone smuggling drugs and a dead body or two. Yes, of course Mitch and company get in trouble with their boss (Rob Huebel) for pursuing things that really aren’t under their jurisdiction. Yes, of course there is running in slow motion. The impressive thing about “Baywatch” is not that it in any way reinvents a formula, but rather the fact that it shows that the formula works for a reason, that the elements, when correctly combined, create something good.
Where does the credit for that then lie? Is it with director Seth Gordon? Is it the screenplay from Damian Shannon & Mark Swift (based on a story by Jay Scherick & David Ronn and Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant)? Is it with stars Johnson, Efron, Daddario, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, and Jon Bass? Is it with the creators of the original series who latched onto something special?
Clearly credit must be given across the board. As silly an idea as the whole thing may sound, from the original concept to the updating it for a movie, it is a thing that works… that the cast makes work.
And, if I’m being a little circumspect here in my description of the movie and my affection for it, I can only go back to Elaine’s ridiculous “Seinfeld” conversation with the guy from The New Yorker when she was obsessed with the meaning of a cartoon. As silly a talk as it was, the New Yorker guy explained that you can’t simply dissect it, and that is largely the sense I’m left with “Baywatch” because the parts that I can easily dissect don’t work.
The drug and real estate villainy plot isn’t really very well thought out and every time the movie slows down to tell us about all of Brody’s problems the energy drains from the whole affair. It is fine when Brody’s problems are laughed off (serious though they may be in the real world) and when the audience is just allowed to accept that there is bad stuff happening in Emerald Bay. Happily, more often than not that’s where the movie lands. “Baywatch” tends to skim the surface of everything, having fun and never thinking too much.
Continuing with the more thorough examination though, the characters are really not deep. The only one with any sort of semi-detailed backstory is Brody and, as stated, whenever the movie treats it seriously, the life drains out of the proceedings. I can’t tell you where Daddario’s Summer or Rohrbach’s CJ or Hadera’s Stephanie comes from, or anything about Bass’s Ronnie except that he has wanted to be a lifeguard for years. And Mitch? Mitch just exists as a lifeguard. As the movie makes clear, that’s who he is, he can’t even wear regular shoes comfortably. This last is funny, the others just show the movie as shallow.
Okay, that last one is right – “Baywatch” is shallow. It is, as indicated above, not going to go down in the history of cinema as one of the all-time great movies. But, if you go and watch it you’ll laugh (at least lightly), smile, and feel good on the way out.
It’s like a day on the beach – fun; easy going; and as long as you don’t bring your kids, not terribly taxing. I feel like that’s enough.
photo credit: Paramount Pictures