Director: Seth Gordon
I have few pet peeves. Among them is a tired horror movie trope in which a group of characters explore an unfamiliar environment, only to declare: “You hear that?” “What?” “Nothing.” You’ll find it left and right in the annals of horror cinema. Hell, even my beloved ALIEN: COVENANT said it. But never was the phrase more relevant than when speaking about the response to 2017’s remake of BAYWATCH, a washboard ab-laden extravaganza gone awry, and a likely contender for the worst film of the year. Not only was it quiet on this western front, BAYWATCH felt virtually marooned on its shores, a beached whale that has lifelessly been adrift since the early aughts.
On paper, BAYWATCH was a surefire hit. With America’s national treasure and GQ spokesperson Dwayne Johnson leading an ensemble comprised of Zac Efron and countless equally beautiful costars, director Seth Gordon (HORRIBLE BOSSES, IDENTITY THIEF) had the film’s success vacuum sealed and flung at the multiplex. And yet, I’d be lying if I’d blame BAYWATCH’s failures on some cosmic catastrophe. Its pitfalls aren’t happenstance. Sadly, it is emblematic of the exact lazy rehash culture that Hollywood has been partaking in for years; fitting that it was released the same week as the latest Pirates of the Caribbean entry.
Mind you that none of this changes the fact that The Rock is a demi-God
But what bothers me most about BAYWATCH isn’t that it’s lazy. It’s that it’s completely impotent. To make things clear: I went into this film with pit-level expectations. I was more than content to surrender myself to a 116-minute rehash of 21 JUMP STREET. I was excited to hear Efron and Johnson wax poetic as they lazily ad-lib and improvise between dump truck coverage. And most of all, I was happy to sit through a handful of decent set pieces centered around a dumb visual gag or two. If the trailer was any indication, I should have gotten my money’s worth.
Little did I know that the BAYWATCH trailer has infinitely better comedic timing than any frame of the final edit. Johnson, Efron and co. aren’t so much uncharismatic as undirected. There is no motivation to make me laugh here. I’m sure that in the right framework, both of these actors can comedically succeed (I’ve seen NEIGHBORS and the last FAST & FURIOUS films, after all), but their verbal sparring is relegated to lazy in-jokes, sophomoric penis humor, unconfident one-liners, and a game of toxic, reckless macho dominance. It’s a film so inept that it spoils its two—cringeworthy—cameos in the opening credits!
What’s more, Johnson has always categorized himself as somewhat of a family man, so seeing him drop the F bomb like a hot potato also feels rather off brand. Which brings me to my first point: Why is this film rated R? No gore is worth my attention, no genital close-up humorous enough. This is all the more pathetic when juxtaposed with any scene starring Jon Bass, a human flounder of a comedian, the lowest tier of your dollar store Jonah Hills. BAYWATCH is a film that’s crass because it thinks it needs to be. It’s so diametrically opposed to any comedic sensibilities that I seriously question why it even exists.
This man has the charisma of a granola bar
And I’m almost certain that the root cause of this disaster is an identity crisis. BAYWATCH doesn’t know who it’s for. Is it for fans of the original series? Is it for a new crowd of happy moviegoers? Is it trying to rebrand the title, stick to its ‘80s predilections, or update itself for a contemporary setting? It simply doesn’t know. And it shows from its opening images, a montage of sun-kissed B-roll that suddenly, and anticlimactically, cuts to Johnson keeping watch at his tower. How is your first shot of The Rock not a low angle hero shot? These formal techniques are not hard to master! What could have been a delicious synth-pop romp is just another run-of-the-mill Apatow-esque comedy.
For what it’s worth, I can commend BAYWATCH on its diverse cast, from the Indian Priyanka Chopra to the lovely Ilfenesh Hadera. The cast is brimming with color, but no amount of ethnic makeup can salvage a sinking ship, especially when its comedy is still ultimately led by Efron, Bass, Johnson, and Pamela Anderson stand-in Kelly Rohrbach. It’s a shame, really, because the brief moments featuring the likes of Hannibal Buress and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II could actually be kind of funny. It only goes to show that making a comedy starring zero career-comedians doesn’t really work. In fact, I spent most of BAYWATCH wondering how comedians in the ilk of Key and Peele could almost single handedly improve each and every comedic interaction.
BAYWATCH is a detective story that idiotically informs us of who the villain is in its third scene. It’s a buddy-cop story with no charisma. It’s a remake with none of the original’s stylizations. It’s an R-rated comedy informed by a 13-year-old’s penis doodles. It’s a goddamn action film that takes little-to-no advantage of its hulking lead actor! There is no heart here. It’s as lifeless as the next VOD comedy that’s been sitting in your local Redbox since the early 2000s. Hell, at least that film will be a more competent throwback than this glorified Sprint ad. To say that BAYWATCH was in too deep would be an exaggeration: it had no reason to be a failure of such proportions. It’s a fish out of water, sure, but why did it ever think that land was where BAYWATCH resides?
Verdict: Do Not Recommend