Studios really need to stop trying to capture the “21 Jump Street” lightning in a bottle…
“Baywatch” is the R-rated big screen adaptation of the 1990s television series. Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron and Alexandra Daddario star as members of a Florida lifeguard team that find drugs on their beach and take it upon themselves to investigate. Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass and Ilfenesh Hadera also star as Seth Gordon directs.
Adapting old TV shows into movies is nothing new, and taking a premise of a series and turning it into an over-the-top PG-13 or R-rated romp isn’t revolutionary, either. But ever since “21 Jump Street” burst onto the scene in 2012, studios have been trying (and failing) to duplicate its commercial and critical success. Even two months ago we had “CHIPS,” an unfunny and mean spirited film based on the California cops show from 1980. This time, we have Paramount casting Zac Efron and The Rock and sinking $69 million (more on that insane budget in a second) into a property they think people will recognize, however what they fail to do is surround their attractive cast with anything funny or exciting to do.
I guess I’ll start with what little good there is. Most of the cast is solid and seem to turn in relatively committed performances; at least considering the material they were given. I’ve been an Efron apologist for years and the “Neighbors” films showed that the man can in fact be funny, and here he is intermediately amusing. Dwayne Johnson is as charmable as ever with his big muscles and even bigger smile, although he continues to choose projects that are undeserving of his talents. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (say that five times fast) is probably the film’s bright spot, starring as the cop who keeps having to remind Johnson and company to stay in their lane and let the actual police do their jobs. He reminded me of Bashir Salahuddin from “Snatched” because while he only has a few scenes, he leaves the biggest impression and I can’t wait to see him in more.
The rest of the cast members are solid enough, but the females are mainly here to look attractive in two-piece bathing suits and tight dresses (of which they succeed) and the men are just supposed to look stupid and/or have good bodies (which, again, job well done on that front).
Most everything else here is a mess. I loved Seth Gordon’s “Horrible Bosses,” it’s one of my favorite comedies of all-time, but his other films are stinkers. I’m not sure if he is a one-hit wonder or what, but the man doesn’t seem to know how to direct a scene (or a film for that matter) to have any sort of rhythm or flow, and as such sequences drag on for far too long. A good comedy knows its purpose and each line of dialogue exists simply to build to the punchline. Films like 2016’s “Ghostbusters” are sluggish and unfunny because of all the riffing and randomly inserted insults in conversation; it ruins any flow. “Baywatch” goes for the easy laugh more often than not, and when you can see a joke coming it lessens its impact.
And ok. So this film’s budget. Apparently this cost $69 million to produce. Ignoring that I am 100% convinced the actual budget was $70 million but the producers found a way to save $1 million just so their budget would read “69,” this film shouldn’t cost that much. Hell, it shouldn’t cost half that much. I know Johnson is the highest paid actor in Hollywood so his quote is around $15 million but this film looks like it was made in 2004 for $20 million. The greenscreen is awful and distracting (how hard would it be to shoot on location in an actual boat?) and the fightscenes are way too up close and shaky. “Deadpool” cost $58 million and we all saw how (relatively) polished that turned out to be.
Look, “Baywatch” isn’t good. For some, it may have a guilty-pleasure way about it and sure, there were a few members of my audience who were dying laughing and clapped when the credits started rolling. But even for me, who has a record of going easy on comedies and chuckled enough throughout this to not hate it, there isn’t enough here to recommend you even check this one on cable. I guess you could say this is one bay that ain’t worth watching…
Critics Rating: 4/10