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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Review: Baywatch

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I was looking forward to some good, dumb summer fun.

And Baywatch has its moments.

But it’s taken down by an undertow of overthinking, over-raunching, and generally a complete miss of what made this series so absurdly popular for so long.

This is the bane of the IP-generated movie era: What do you do with the nostalgia? Do you embrace it fully? Do you mock it? Do you parody it broadly? Or do you split the difference between the three possibilities and miss the mark by an embarrassing distance?

Honestly, Baywatch is not as terrible as its massive failure suggests. There are still moments and this cast is aces, from top to bottom. And this makes the failure to be simple, stupid, joyous summer fun so very frustrating.

What were they thinking when then made a R-rated version of Baywatch when the only nudity was a not-funny dead-guy’s-penis joke and the other almost sexual thing is a guy somehow getting his erect penis and scrotum on the wrong side of a chaise lounge’s slats… which is not nearly as funny as they think it is (spending two full minutes on it).

There are breasts in bathing suits, low-cut dresses and wet suits. But the jiggle jokes are less overt than on the TV show. I didn’t need to see a bare bosom in the film… but I didn’t need the dick jokes either. And it’s not like they are smart, sly, insightful, ironic dick jokes. They are just dick jokes.

The core problem is that the idea of the movie is just not interesting. An endlessly recurring theme is that the lifeguards think they are police when they are just lifeguards. This never pays off. Never.

If you are extremely spoiler-sensitive, you can drop off now, but here is the primary storyline (aside from Zac Efron coming of age)… A super-hot Indian woman whose only clothes require tape to keep her breasts from falling out owns a beachfront hotel and wants to take over other beach front hotels because, somehow, this will make her drug smuggling (which never takes place on the beach) easier and is happy to torture or kill anyone in her way to they-were-hoping comic effect.

That’s it.

It makes no sense. But it offers bodyguard types big and mean enough to fight with Dwayne Johnson four or five times during the film. It must have been intended to offer a sexual tension with the villain… that is not longer in the film, as it appears that superhero Dwayne is a sexual eunuch in this R-rated film.

This is that place where I make a suggestion that sounds like I am telling the filmmaker what to do. But I am not. I am offering an option that would have been better than what was there. There are a million solutions and this is just one. But… MAKE A CHOICE. You could have The Rock sleeping with all the Baywatch beauties in a completely matter-of-fact way… of course people this good looking who are always running in bathing suits and have co-ed showers end up having sex… no big deal. OR he is mourning for his great love and has put all of his energy into Baywatch for years, but he is about to explode sexually. OR he is sexually insecure even though he is the toughest man on earth. WHATEVER. Make a choice.

It is one of the sad parts of the Baywatch effort that they created a very smart, capable, physically gifted female character of color (Ilfenesh Hadera)… then make her both a clitoral eunuch and the character with the least amount of story amongst the lead characters.

The film splits the other two screen melters (Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach) into romantic dyads that are signaled clearly from the very beginning of the movie. And this is a shame. Both of these young women turn out to have real skill as comedians. Daddario is reminiscent of Alison Brie, a little younger (4 years) and on a slightly different track. She actually breaks away from the bombshell imact of here turn in HBO’s “True Detective” by being smarter than her objectification here. Rohrbach is what they are always hoping for when they cast a model to play comedy.

Again, the issue of the screenwriters and director making a strong choice is an issue for both of these actresses’ characters. Daddario’s Summer plays hard to get… so why not make it really hard for Zac Efron’s character and play with the line of sexuality. Rohrbach is on track to end up with the comic relied nerd… so take it to the next level. What if The Beauty really wants it from The Beast and he keeps on being unable to deliver? It’s almost there in the film… but it shies away. As a character, she is completely matter-of-fact about his penis, which is not seen but is played for jokes throughout. Why didn’t they really do something with that idea?

This entire movie is like the middle, boring part of a joke… like no one wants to get to the punchline.

Or go a different way. I don’t see the point of making this PG-13 movie into an R by saying “mutherfucker” a lot and showing a dead man’s penis if you aren’t going to make it a real R (like Horrible Bosses).

Sad to report that Seth Gordon, with his fourth major studio film here, still directs like an episodic TV director… single, single, single, boring 2 shot, single. There are shots that actually don’t match. Forget about getting a sense of space in any of these action sequences. Everything is a close-up and a jump cut. The guy makes character comedies, but he doesn’t know how to help his actors thrive on screen…. even though he has had some success. The fact that he ha overcome his limitations as a director in his films tells you how great he is at casting.

The unnecessary complexity of the story structure, given how simplistic the ideas were, really kept a great cast from flying here. I was even willing to put up with the Josh-Gad-wannabe (Jon Bass) by the end. But the movie doesn’t know what it has going for it and what is just meaningless complication.

By the time we got to the outtakes over credits, I was ready to leave… didn’t feel that the film had earned the right to be so self-amused.

If you are satisfied by a few laughs and looking at beautiful people for 2 hours, go for it. It’s not going to enrage you. As I noted earlier, it gets uglier by dissection, but it’s bland and beautiful enough not to hurt. But it could have been so much more.

5 Responses to “Review: Baywatch”

  1. GSpot 3000 says:

    Happy with the increased output on the Blog. Nice to have you back, David!

  2. Lars says:

    Very good to see Rock make ANOTHER bad film. Seriously this guy hasn’t made an instant classic yet people kiss the ground he walks on. All of his movies are either terrible or completely forgettable. He has no Terminator, no Rambo, no Die Hard, but somehow the biggest action star in the world. Hopefully people will wake up and see the truth.

    Great review btw.

  3. Stella's Boy says:

    Instant classic = Rampage. Guaranteed.

  4. Gustine says:

    This just in – crap TV series turns in to crap movie.

  5. ADFan says:

    Just stumbled onto this review.

    This is probably the one review that best reflects my viewpoints on the movie, i.e. needed less villain plot and more supporting characterization.

    I appreciate you not name dropping the actress who plays the villain because who the villain is played by is irrelevant to the issue the villain presents for the movie.

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