A kite surfer is hurled into the air before being slammed into the rocky shallows and swept out to sea. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) mans his tower, turns, drops his binoculars and hits the sand running. He throws his life preserver into the air and leaps into the ocean. He reaches into the swirly depths, scoops up the unconscious man, emerges from the water, and is accompanied by an enormous “Baywatch” title card rising from the wash like a U-boat.
It is an immediate wink to the audience, and a signal that we’re in for a facetious and deliberate satire. What follows is 2 hours of unapologetic ridicule, mindless action and relentless comedy.
By the time the Baywatch TV series had run its course, it had become a glorified soap opera, where blonde bimbos, hot bodies and dim-witted melodrama took precedence over quality. In adapting the series for the big screen, the film’s creators chose a sardonic approach and, following the tradition of other TV-to-film adaptations like 21 Jump Street and CHIPS, they have created a piss-take that is tenaciously funny, incessantly stupid and persistently entertaining.
Johnson steps into the shoes (sorry, thongs/flip flops) previously worn by David Hasselhoff, and takes control of the screen like a pro. With a chiselled body that resembles a cluster of bowling balls, he bares no resemblance to the Mitch Buchannon of old, but sustains the same level of arrogance and self-righteousness. When his lifeguard station recruits three new rookies we are introduced to Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a disgraced athlete with a brain full of ego – and little else – whose own sculptured body looks like it’s come straight out of a Marvel comic. As their training begins the squad is thrown deep into a murder and narcotics investigation, and it is up to the Baywatch crew (not the cops) to solve the crime and catch the bad guy.
It is an awful and contrived narrative that drips with cliché and resembles the plot of a Police Academy movie. With their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks, writers Mark Swift and Damian Shannon have whittled a self-referential comedy that makes no apologies for being silly. Actually, their work on Baywatch is something of an oddity given that they previously wrote horror films Freddy vs. Jason and Friday the 13th. With seemingly little restraint, they twist the Baywatch institution into a crass and very adult-orientated comedy, and with all kinds of leaps, they have managed to – somehow – have the movie and TV series overlap.
The crux of the comedy relies on the common sentiment that the original series was melodramatic and dumb, and features a recurring gag of the lifeguards assuming more authority than they actually have. The Baywatch team (particularly Mitch) are oblivious to the limits of their duty, while the characters surrounding them, such as the police and local businesses, have a clear understanding of jurisdiction. This ongoing motif – while overdone at times – keeps the humour in check, while the rest of the comedy unfolds around them in hysterical fashion.
Johnson and Efron lead the cast effortlessly and fully embrace the nature of the material. Their dynamic (bromance) is fun to watch and they have a great rapport with each other. The supporting cast is decent too, with Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera and Jon Bass making up the rest of the crew. Bass is particularly effective in what is a strange case of comic relief within a spoof. He provides the awkward chubby archetype character to counter-balance all of the beauty and brawn that occupies the rest of the screen.
Baywatch is not a great film by any means. Its 120-minute run time does it a massive disservice and contributes to a sense of comedy fatigue in the final act. The baddie of the story (played by Priyanka Chopra) is poorly conceived and without much worth, and while having the typical Bond-esque villain be a woman is a welcome flip on the convention, her place within the story isn’t taken advantage of. In fact, less of her would have served the story better, as would have 30-minutes cut from the overall duration.
Nevertheless, these are but small qualms to what is an otherwise energetic, riotous and clever satire. It features boobs and abs aplenty, making it the ultimate perve fest for anyone and everyone who sees it. And with a killer soundtrack to back it all up, Baywatch ought to be a crowd-pleaser… and I’ll be damned if it isn’t.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10