IN CERTAIN CIRCLES––and you’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever volunteered the information that you can’t help liking, say, Borat, or Dead Snow––the suggestion that not all films have to be high art is met at best with undisguised disdain and at worst with slow backing away. Maybe the fear of those who reflexively shun those films is that if they sat through something that wasn’t made by someone living, say, in the wilderness with only a Super 6 camera for company they might enjoy the film, and from then on be unable to take themselves so seriously. At any rate such an approach to film is fine by me, as it is those people, and not me or you, dear reader, who end up depriving themselves of such examples of stupid but hilarious cinema as 21 Jump Street, or Seth Gordon’s recent take on Baywatch.
You have the impression that in the second half of the film the plot accelerates because the first half of the film is something like a long music video. It’s filled with an impossible number of impossibly attractive people and the soundtrack is a medley of feel-good summer anthems from Major Lazer’s Get Free to Notorious B.I.G.’s Hypnotize.
The set up is this: Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) and his colleagues Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) are about to host the annual tryouts for the Baywatch team. This year there are three places for the taking rather than one, and one of the potentials is the arrogant, selfish and stupid two-time Olympic gold medallist Matt ‘The Vomit Comet’ Brody (Zac Efron), who wastes no time in irritating and exasperating Mitch and his team. While Brody and two others potentials, Summer (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie (Jon Bass) try to force their way into the Baywatch ranks, shipments of the drug flaca are washing up on the beach, and a particularly pouty and sinister upmarket resort owner called Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) is gliding in and out of the picture. Could these two things possibly be related? This semblance of a plot, written by Michael Berk and Douglas Schwartz, is a more than an adequate platform for the Baywatch team to run around in slow-motion or do other ridiculous things.
You have the impression that in the second half of the film the plot accelerates because the first half of the film is something like a long music video. It’s filled with an impossible number of impossibly attractive people and the soundtrack is a medley of feel-good summer anthems from Major Lazer’s Get Free to Notorious B.I.G.’s Hypnotize. Of course this by itself wouldn’t be enough to hold anyone’s attention for all that long, but it doesn’t have to, because in a stupid, guilty, teenage sort of way, Baywatch is hilarious. Jon Bass’s luckless Ronnie earns his fair share of the laughs but the best moments of comedy come courtesy of Johnson and Efron, who have an easy comic chemistry even among a well-cast and well-matched group of actors. Johnson, with his 100-megawatt smile and natural charisma seems as nearly as possible to perfectly cast while Efron continues to prove not only that he can act but that he’s self-effacing as well.
Like other comedic entrants to the TV-to-film genre, Baywatch is as much a spoof of its hugely popular predecessor as it is a tribute or reboot. It’s self-aware in a way that many reimaginings or sequels like to think they are but typically aren’t. When Captain Kirk mentions that ‘things have started to feel episodic’ in the overrated third instalment of the most recent Star Trek franchise, for instance, it comes across as empty and falsely modest. When Brody tells Mitch that the idea of lifeguards leaving the beach to investigate crimes ‘sounds like an entertaining but far-fetched TV show,’ it’s self-deprecating, and supported by countless other lines and enough unnecessary slow-motion to make Zack Snyder blush. (The action scenes – to put the gratuitous slow-mo to the side for a moment – aren’t even all that bad, thanks to intimate and disorienting camerawork and frenetic jump-cutting, not to mention the athletic talents of Johnson.)
Like other comedic entrants to the TV-to-film genre, Baywatch is as much a spoof of its hugely popular predecessor as it is a tribute or reboot. It’s self-aware in a way that many reimaginings or sequels like to think they are but typically aren’t.
Part of the success of Baywatch is that it updates its comedy for the modern day. It is by necessity a call-back to the past, but outside of the slapstick and crudeness the material is surprisingly modern, and there is humour that wouldn’t seem too out of place in a film by Edgar Wright or Nick Frost or Simon Pegg (who, incidentally, co-wrote the Star Trek film quoted above.) It’s stupid and juvenile, but Baywatch is more than a worthy successor to its soap opera original. And it’s so much funnier.