Review Date: 6/1/2017
Rating: 2/5 Peanuts
In a Nutshell:
While poor acting, pacing and plot render it deserving of its mostly negative reaction from other critics, ultimately Baywatch is most disappointing because it very clearly dropped the ball on the kernel of a great idea.
I'm going to level with you right off the bat - this was a bad movie. It wasn't Hindenburg bad, but it certainly, unequivocally, was a bad movie. And unfortunately it wasn't so-bad-its-good either. I'm all in favor of the occasional shitty movie that you can hate watch or even the rare, as my father would say, something stupid you can "turn your brain off to". Unfortunately, Baywatch was neither of those things. Instead, Baywatch was a movie that begged you not to take it seriously the same way that your kid sibling sticks their hand an inch away from your face and says "I'm not touching you"! It may be factually accurate, but it's also absolutely insincere. No, Baywatch seriously tried seriously hard not to be taken seriously.
And it's a shame too, because the greatest failing of Baywatch isn't that it's a silly, goofy, gratuitously raunchy movie. In fact, when well executed, those movies are a breath of fresh air for audiences. Think about how well received The Hangover was - before they ruined it with the sequels - or what kind of a sleeper hit Deadpool turned out to be. Gratuitously raunchy film-making is not in itself a crime, though that is what all too often consumes column inches (am I dating myself with that idiom?). The problem with Baywatch is that it used raunchiness as a crutch. In other words, it was done lazily.
When watching the movie I was struck by how there seemed to be the core of a great idea, as if somewhere in someone's brain a much better version of the movie existed, but was never birthed. How great would it be to watch a film about clueless idiot lifeguards trying to be cops and simply not understanding that they're just lifeguards (not to denigrate the profession, but at the same time come on, you're clearly not cops) and have neither the authority, nor the training to take on the duties of law enforcement? I'm thinking a sort of Rudy meets Serpico with a dash of Cop Land thrown in for spice. That would be a great movie. And indeed that is a movie that I think someone in the writers room wanted to make.
Unfortunately, what we got instead was the increasingly common lazy writing that is infesting Hollywood today. You created a great premise and wrote an interesting first act? Awesome, let's put that in the trailer to get audiences in through the door. But what's that? You need a plot to make it longer than a 30 minute romp? Let's throw in some hand-wavy bullshit, throw in a bunch of pointless raunchy gags, put Zac Efron in a dress and call it a day. Way easier than actually committing the time up front to properly stick the landing right?
And don't get me wrong, I actually enjoyed the cast. Dwayne Johnson, forever The Rock to me, turns in a decent performance, though he is by no means stretching himself as an actor on this one, and Zac Efron continues to surprise me with his acting chops. True, he won't be winning any non-razzie awards on this one, but I think it's safe to say he's managed to transition from preteen heartthrob to legitimate actor, even if the niche he's carving out for himself is also occupied by Ken Jeong and Zach Galifianakis. Modest praise aside though, the film is not well acted. Some of that is doubtlessly the fault of bad writing and one dimensional characters, but most everyone on the cast seems to be more interested in waiting for the check to cash than putting any real effort into their craft.
At the end of the day this movie was phoned in and as a lovingly loyal patron of the film industry that is unacceptable. I had high hopes that I was going to see another 21 Jump Street and instead I got Neighbors 2. I walked out of the theater so disappointed that even I myself couldn't be bothered to come up with lifeguard / drowning / ocean / beach puns to pepper in to this review. No, on this one I'm throwing in the towel, just like the filmmakers did.