Some people stand in the darkness, afraid to step into the light – the immortal first lines of the theme song from cult 1980s US TV series Baywatch. If you’re not of a certain age, the sun-drenched, sweat-glistened and slow-motioned extravaganza probably won’t mean the same to you as those who were there for its inception, but for those who vividly remember those Saturday early evenings watching a slice of “Americana”, it holds a special place in their heart. Now, almost 30 years and numerous attempts later, a film version has found its way to big-screen thanks, in part, to Dwayne Johnson. Does it swim or sink without trace? Well, somewhere in the middle. A frenzied “doggy-paddle” if you will.
Johnson is the new Mitch Buchanan (previously played by David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff), the top lieutenant of “Baywatch”, Florida’s premium lifeguard station. After another successful year protecting the shores, it’s time to gain some new recruits for the new season and amongst those hoping to join the swimsuit-clad crew are Summer Quinn (Daddario) and Ronnie (Bass), both with differing attributes but both of the right “Baywatch” calibre. Less so is former Olympic gold medalist Matt Brody (Efron) – disgraced after a scandal involving a relay team final, Brody is seen as a PR gift and is thrust into the team much to Mitch’s chagrin. But Brody’s ineptitude isn’t the biggest cause for concern on the lush yellow beaches – new local businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Chopra) is making a big splash around the town and is quickly buying up all the surrounding properties, but Mitch suspects foul play particularly given the increase in drugs circulating the beach.
Ripe for a big-screen adaptation, Baywatch takes it’s cue from other modern-day revamps of old television shows (namely 21/22 Jump Street) in mixing the old elements people loved about the source material and not only giving it an update but also knowingly poking fun – lovingly, of course – at that which has gone before. But while the Jump Street had great success with such a formula, Baywatch is a bit of mixed bag in truth and never really scales the heights it dares to dream of. That’s not to say that the film isn’t great fun as it very much is, particularly when Johnson is on screen, but the truly big laughs are sadly sporadic and when the gears change in the second half the film, it loses its momentum as laughs become chuckles and the effervescence and energy of the opening half runs out of steam. Indeed had the film embraced the silliness of the material like those others mentioned, this could and probably would have been the comedy of the year for sure.
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Indeed outside of Johnson’s magnetic performance, it’s hard to pick another member of the cast that performs just as well. They all try hard but for those outside of the “top-two” are sadly underserviced: Jon Bass and Kelly Rohrbach’s chemistry is great and it’s a big shame that they aren’t utilised more; Priyanka Chopra makes for a decent villain but isn’t quite hammy enough to make her truly fiendish (again, something the film would have benefited from); while Daddario’s Summer is left cast at sea, struggling to tread water. Then there’s Efron – after a string of comedic misfires, you’d think he’d be sick of the sight of such projects, but the lure of working with Johnson, in particular, was too probably too much to resist. He gives as good as he gets here but for anyone who has seen The Paperboy know that beneath the ripped abs and comedic fodder he is much better than this.
While there is much fun to be had here, this ultimately feels like a bit of a missed opportunity – there are plenty of laughs and the sight of another towering performance from Dwayne Johnson mixed with the usual Baywatch “elements” will be enough to see that this one is a huge hit, but sadly it loses its way in the final lengths and struggles to stay afloat.
HeyUGuys Mouth Off Episode #19 – Discussing Baywatch