★★ / ★★★★
Fans of sophomoric comedy are likely to walk away somewhat satiated by Seth Gordon’s “Baywatch,” but those hoping for a range of comedy equal to the talent of the cast are certain to be disappointed. There is a reason why comedies are usually only about ninety minutes and this film, which is about two hours, wears out its welcome by repeating one too many jokes. Here is a picture that suffers from diminishing returns.
The plot is simple and has potential to entertain. Three potential lifeguards (Zac Efron, Jon Bass, Alexandra Daddario) are recruited to be a part of Baywatch, an elite team of lifeguards (Dwayne Johnson, Ilfenesh Hadera, Kelly Rohrbach) who do more than save drowning people in Emerald Bay, Florida. Being a part of Baywatch is a lifestyle, being a family, doing other people’s jobs before the official professionals arrive at the scene. It is most unfortunate that the plot revolves around catching a drug dealer (Priyanka Chopra).
At times it turns into an action film instead of focusing on being a comedy. The chases are self-serious, usually manically edited, and there is little to no tension behind them. Part of the problem is because the screenplay by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift is so empty that it uses action as a crutch, attempting to pass whatever is on screen as entertainment. But there is no entertainment value created when not for a second do we believe that the protagonists are in any real danger. Notice how the material’s structure is quite episodic. Divide it into three parts and a three-episode arc is revealed. Still, many television shows nowadays are better than what this film has to offer.
I enjoyed all six members of the Baywatch team because the performers are wiling to make fun of themselves. It is apparent that the actors were encouraged to ad-lib. It works occasionally, especially when Johnson and Efron exchange barbs, but it would have been preferred if the material is able to support its performers. There is only so much an actor can do or say; they certainly do not have control over the freshness of the plot, how characters are developed individually as well as a part of a team, and the range of jokes provided given a particular situation. Filmmakers cannot depend on actors to carry the work.
The film, in a way, is about new beginnings and so it is curious—and a missed opportunity—that the material does not capitalize on this. It is about new beginnings in two ways: introducing “Baywatch” to a new generation (while satisfying the fans of the original television series) and introducing trainees to a particular lifestyle. Pertaining the latter, we do not learn much about what the job entails outside of the obvious, the personal characteristics necessary to excel at it, and some of the surprises one might encounter on the job. And with the former, the writing fails to capture a certain level of excitement. The filmmakers probably assumed that just because they cast actors who are physically appealing, audiences would inevitably follow.
In a nutshell, “Baywatch” is hampered by laziness. If a sequel were to follow, it would be wise to hire writers who do not depend on the usual tropes, writers who are aware of how interesting comedies work, writers who have something to say about how it is really like to hold a job even though this particular universe is tongue-in-cheek. Contrasts and variations are interesting; regurgitation and recycling of ideas is death to comedy.