It’s another beautiful day on the beach and the Baywatch lifeguard team, headed by the gung-ho Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) are holding try outs.
Among this year’s potential recruits are the driven Summer (Alexandra Daddario), requisite tubby comic relief Ronnie (Jon Bass), and former Olympian party animal Matt (Zan Efron), who thinks he can coast on his dual gold medals. The team will need all the help they can get, too, as a dead body washed up on the shore points to a drug smuggling conspiracy making their beloved bay unsafe. Could it have anything to do with the new club recently opened by real estate magnate, Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra)? You betcha. Will you care? Hell no.
There’s a school of thought in American filmmaking that essentially believes that anything a couple of reasonably funny, charismatic people can come up with on the spot in front of the camera is bound to be funnier than anything scripted, and it is absolutely killing American comedy. Baywatch is simply the latest casualty of a system that privileges star presence over structure; unfortunately the talents of Mssrs. The Rock and Efron – and they are legion – fall short of the Herculean task that is saving Baywatch from itself.
It is perhaps forgivable, in a way – Baywatch, in any form, be it original recipe, Nights, Hawaii, or this, is unsophisticated fare, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Its remit is to be sexy and funny, and populating the cast with an array of hot bods and putting Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon in charge should take care of both those requirements, one would think. But simple fare still takes considerable craft, and when your comedic fall back position is “have the fat guy dance”, there’s precious little in evidence. There are a few laughs to be had – Johnson tearing strips off of Efron on the reg is never not fun – but far less than you’d want out of something like this.
What’s really surprising is how unsexy it is, given it’s certainly not shy about showing off acres of flesh. Remember, Baywatch the series was all about sex, but it was the ’90s and they weren’t allowed to actually show it – that’s why we got so much slow motion running. The 2017 version has a weirdly puritanical approach to sex, so almost nobody really hooks up, and characters who show arousal or attraction are shamed for it (there’s one exception which would almost subvert the trope if the character in question wasn’t routinely degraded at every other point of the narrative).
So, Baywatch. It’s not funny, and it’s not sexy, so what is it? Well, it’s in cinemas, but probably not for long.