If Citizen Kane, widely regarded as one of the finest films ever made, is the cinematic equivalent of dinner at a four-star restaurant, Baywatch is a Hot Pocket and a cold Mountain Dew. Both are satisfying in their way, but only one reflects enduring and lofty creative effort. Not every movie aspires to be high art, and rightfully so. Some movies are just big, dumb fun. Baywatch is one of those movies. Adapted from the iconic 1990s TV series of the same name, this iteration of the franchise adapts enough elements from the TV show to feel familiar, while applying some tricks Hollywood has gleaned from successful and unsuccessful TV show adaptations in recent years.
This is the part where I usually write about the plot, but let’s be honest, people aren’t watching Baywatch for the plot any more than fanboys are hoping this movie stays true to the father-son dynamic between Mitch and Hobie. At its best, the TV show was delightfully farfetched and casually sexy, as if it hadn’t occurred to anyone that the show was titillating. Of course, everyone involved in the show’s production knew full well that the show oozed sex appeal. 2017 Baywatch is much more self aware about sexuality. That is to say, it doesn’t pretend not to sexualize its characters, unapologetically objectifying both men and women.
Character development takes a backseat to humor that veered raunchier than I expected. Nothing in the TV series foreshadows the blue streak in this latest franchise reinvention, but I suppose it’s not surprising. My threshold for off-color humor is admittedly high, so I certainly didn’t take offense. Humor is notoriously subjective, so what might play as juvenile to some might just be playfully naughty to others. Matt Brody (Efron) is the only character whose backstory is offered to any extent approaching meaningful. Efron effectively straddles the line between boorish overconfidence and vulnerability. Much like his role in Neighbors, Efron plays a pretty idiot. It seems in 2017, party-bros have replaced blondes as the butt of jokes about being dumb. That sounds like a fair trade to me.
C.J. Parker, the role that made Pam Anderson a household name, is played by Kelly Rohrbach, who imbues the character with sweetness worthy of the original. The stakes were higher for Rohrbach than anyone on the cast, considering the iconic nature of her role. Anderson’s blonde hair and curves in a red one-piece swimsuit are synonymous with Baywatch. Much like the other characters, we don’t know much about who C.J. is, but it doesn’t matter. She’s earnest, kind and funny. We don’t need to know why she’s earnest and kind.
Dwayne Johnson steps into David Hasselhoff’s second most iconic role as Lieutenant Mitch Buchanon. With this performance, Johnson officially earned a spot on my list of likable actors. Not that I ever disliked The Rock Johnson, it’s just that I hadn’t really given him much of a chance before his starring role on HBO’s Ballers, a role in which he shines. Here, his performance is authentic as the big-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold. Johnson comes off as genuine and congenial. He’s this movie’s heart, so Johnson’s winning mix of charm, charisma and humor make him an endearing and indispensable figure. The character doesn’t stretch Johnson’s range as an actor in any way, but why should it? This is Baywatch. What you see is what you get, and sometimes that’s enough.
Borrowing a strategy from the successful reboot of 21 Jump Street and its even more over the top-sequel, in which the absurdity of the premise was embraced and amplified, Baywatch avoids straining credulity by declining to offer a contrived justification for an action movie about lifeguards. It’s ridiculous, you know it’s ridiculous, they know it’s ridiculous, let’s move on. The approach more or less works here, but this reinvention strategy will only work for so long, and with certain franchises. Failed adaptations like The Mod Squad play it straight when they should poke fun at themselves. The self-referential, whimsical approach works when the audience is in on the joke, and only when there’s a tacit agreement that the franchise is not worth reverence.
|Title Movie Info|
|Release Date:||May 25th, 2017|
|Author:||Jason M. Brown|