Movie review: New release offers a return to ‘Baywatch’
–I was just a kid in 1989 when a new prime time series debuted on NBC that put lifeguards in central focus. Was “Baywatch” cheesy and a little unbelievable? Sure. But it had something that drew me in.
It lasted just one season, and wasn’t a hit with viewers. At least not on Prime Time. The series was revived in 1991 as a syndicated series and, well, it definitely looked a little different. The new iteration lasted 10 seasons and became a part of the cultural lexicon.
It even spawned a few new versions, like “Baywatch Nights” and “Baywatch Hawaii.” Though “Baywatch” and all its versions have been off the air for more than a decade, it’s never left the cultural consciousness.
And, amidst the wave of past shows and movies being re-imagined on the big screen, what was old is new again. “Baywatch” lives again, this time as a feature film that brings back the characters we remember — including a few memorable cameos — while telling the story in a different way.
The new “Baywatch” picks up in Florida, as Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) is working hard to keep the beach safe. He’s incredibly popular with the locals, and incredibly talented at his job. But some of the powers that be — namely Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel) — want him to stick to lifeguarding, rather than amateur sleuthing.
But when a dangerous drug keeps washing ashore on his beach, Mitch suspects that a new businesswoman, Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), may be responsible.
All this comes to a head as Baywatch is recruiting new lifeguards. Mitch and his team — including Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) — are looking for three new recruits. They bring in Summer (Alexandra Daddario), a talented and dedicated swimmer, and Ronnie (Jon Bass), a tech geek who inspires Mitch with his heart. For the final slot, Mitch is forced to take on Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a former gold-medal-winning swimmer whose personal flaws have made him a pariah.
Mitch and Matt butt heads from the get-go, as Mitch struggles to get Matt to look past his own needs and appreciate the concept of a team. Meanwhile, the investigation into Victoria Leeds and her business interests continues as he tries to protect the Bay.
“Baywatch” was, ostensibly, a drama. Even the syndicated version was meant to be taken somewhat seriously, though with a grain of salt. This film version is aiming at something else.
There’s a proud tradition during the summer of releasing over-the-top, R-rated comedies. “Baywatch” lands squarely in that arena. It also matches up with some of the recent re-makes of classic shows in that it is more of a send up of the original than a faithful adaptation, ala “CHiPs,” which debuted in March. Which isn’t to say the makers don’t have an appreciation for the original show. The main character names have been retained, and both David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson make appearances in the new film.
But this is about the new squad, and what was likely an attempt to kick-start a new franchise. I didn’t think “Baywatch” was great, but it was plenty entertaining. Johnson is great movie star, one whose personality and charm can elevate the material. He does that here.
Efron has shown his comedic mettle, too. And his scenes opposite of Johnson, and their chemistry on screen together, are the best part of this film. The rest is just OK. The story is about as cliché as it gets, as are most of the characters. The performances in those roles aren’t that compelling, either.
“Baywatch” has gotten middling to poor reviews — something Johnson has pointed out on Social Media. That didn’t help its opening week Box Office, but those that went into the movie with the right expectations will likely be pleased with what they see here. This isn’t a great, or even particularly memorable, film, but it’s entertaining. And during this summer season, that’s probably enough to be considered a moderate success.
And let’s not forget, the actual performance and execution of the original show wasn’t much to write home about, either.
“Baywatch” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity. Enter with caution.
Three stars out of four.