‘Our team is the elite of the elite’ – Baywatch (Film Review)

Rating:

Standard procedure after a film screening  is to get a message the following day from your editor (H.R.H Michael Dickinson) asking for a soundbite to sum up your feelings about the film you had seen the previous evening. I sent him five options. These were:

  • The film is an attempt to pay tribute to the original tv series, whilst poking fun at it. It fails on both counts.
  • The film is a literal demonstration of how adding a swear word to every other sentence doesn’t automatically make something funny.
  • The film is 116 minutes long. That makes it 116 minutes too long.
  • The film has a scene which features a character (played  by Efron) in a morgue investigating the ballsack of a corpse for needle marks. (To be continued…)
  • Like that annoying boy who was in your class in secondary school, the film relies on dick jokes and poorly written punch lines in a desperate attempt to get your attention. As with the annoying boy who was in your class in secondary school, it makes you want to punch the film in the face.

Suffice to say, I didn’t like this film. I went in with no expectations and left disappointed. So, what exactly went wrong? Short answer: a lot. The most glaring error is the story. What little there is of a story doesn’t really make sense and would only fill up a page of writing – yet somehow this is stretched to close to two hours. The two main strands of plot are that of Matt Brody (Efron) trying to become part of the Baywatch squad then, once he is given the uniform, fighting his self-destructive nature to become a real part of the team. The other strand is the investigation into drug-smuggling occurring on the Bay, something that Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (Johnson) will not stand for.

It’s made abundantly clear very early on that rich newcomer, tycoon Victoria Leeds (Chopra) has something to do with the trading of this new and super-strong drug. Instead the film is less a who-dun-it and more a needa-prove-it. Mitch and his crew know of her involvement but the police don’t believe them, mainly because they are just lifeguards (who’da thought it?!?) Things occur, undercover operations happen, people fight. Repeat. Repeat. The film strolls in slo-mo from one event to another with little momentum, scarcely drawn characters and a whole lotta ridiculousness. Nobody with even a brief awareness of the 80s tv series would go into this expecting realism or believability. But, at the very least, if you’re going to make me endure such farcical nonsense make me laugh in the process.

The film is dependant on your having a sense of humour that is anatomy-centric. If that’s not your bag then the six laugh test you shall not pass. The zip scene from There’s Something About Mary (1998) has to be one of the funniest gross-out scenes in comedy because it was cleverly written, not too long a scene and played out by characters we already cared about. Watching wanna-be lifeguard Ronnie (Bass) battle with an erect penis stuck in a beach chair, well that just can’t compare. And then there’s the aforementioned morgue scene, which does actually occur during the film. You may think my description of it alone makes it sound gross enough. Guess what, I saw it in IMAX.

Part-coping strategy, both with this particular scene and the entire film in general, I started to think about Zac Efron’s career in general. Last year he starred in two reasonably funny films, if far from future classics, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates & Bad Neighbours 2. Yet, he also starred in Bad Grandpa… His IMDB page features more lows than highs, a sad fact considering he has an obvious charisma and affinity for comedy that Hollywood has totally underutilised. He’s got charm, the ability to deliver a good punch line (when he’s given them) and gives excellent facial expressions. Here’s hoping his next movie, Hugh Jackman -led The Greatest Showman which comes out in the UK in January, or his take on serial killer Ted Bundy (!) in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (currently in pre-production), will help him progress beyond mediocre gross-out movies.

Ruminations upon Efron’s legacy aside, the rest of the cast are pretty forgettable.  Johnson showed his comedy chops in last year’s rather entertaining Central Intelligence. He doesn’t get to display them here, mainly because the script doesn’t grant them. His character is written as an All-American hero type without flaws, an archetype that creaks with how out-of-date it is. There’s a couple of gags that do deliver but the stuff that doesn’t really land is due to the fact it’s just not pitched properly. Instead of turning the running in slo-mo into a ‘bit’ the joke is simply a character commenting on how someone is running in slow-mo; it’s the kind of film where not just the story, even the jokes are explained via exposition-heavy dialogue.

I’ll be ready to never have to endure this movie again.

Dir: Seth Gordon

Scr: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hannibal Buress.

Prd: Ivan Reitman, Tom Pollock, Beau Flynn, Dwayne Johnson, Michael Berk, Dany Garcia, Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonann.

DOP: Eric Steelberg

Music: Christopher Lennertz

Country: USA

Year: 2007

Run time: 116 minutes

Opening in UK cinemas on Thursday 25th May.