In Baywatch, Lifeguard Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) works with his team of fellow lifeguards to uncover a sinister plot that threatens ‘the Bay’.
The Reboot Machine continues its practice of gradually churning out perfunctory, passionless, cash-grabs based on our most beloved or remembered properties, with this year’s Baywatch. The reimagining of the 1989 TV series starring Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron borrows heavily from recent, and more successful comedies. In particular the 2012 film 21 Jump Street, which is also a reboot of an 80s TV series. To say it borrowed heavily may actually be an understatement, considering it seems the writers of Baywatch essentially copied and pasted the plot outline for Jump Street and changed the names and locations. This was clearly an attempt to capture some of the magic that made Jump Street so wildly popular. However, what the writers of Baywatch failed to realise is that Jump Street’s success was not due to the machinations of the plot, but rather the engaging characters, self-referential nature of the story, and most importantly, the inventive and expertly crafted comedy. Where 21 Jump Street had creative visual gags and excellent comedic writing, Baywatch has dick jokes and basically nothing else. It really is all just dick jokes.
Adding to the disappointment are the one dimensional and boring characters, all of whom we have seen on screens before in one form or another. The argument could certainly be made that one-note characters, cheesy situations and sub-par attempts at humour all harken back to the film’s predecessor; the original TV series. But to excuse clear failings of the film as a means of evoking nostalgia is an affront to good storytelling and filmmaking. And, if we have learned anything from films like 21 Jump Street, it’s that these elements aren’t necessarily inherently bad; instead, it’s all about how they’re handled.
While a film should usually be critiqued on its own merits, the makers of Baywatch invited comparisons to 21 Jump Street when they lifted its entire plot, so the films will continue to be contrasted. Jump Street managed to lean into the cheesy tropes and absurd plot developments by making meta references to them throughout the film, and also surrounding those elements with great characters, performances, and jokes. This is Baywatch’s greatest failing. Its only draw is the recognisable name that was slapped on to it to draw audiences nostalgic for the series.
Baywatch’s idea of meta references to its own absurdity are the poor attempts at lamp-shading the film’s predictable sexism, by having characters literally say ‘no offence’ when making sexist remarks. On top of that, the film clearly believes that by showing its men and women both running in their swimsuits, it is participating in some kind of grand act of ‘equal opportunity sexual objectification’. However, the film’s men, when undressed, are either there so we can marvel at their strength and bravery, or laugh at them for being lovable and charming. On the other hand, the women are there to be ogled, and at times, actually drooled over. That is the extent of their purpose in this film.
Despite all of the actors clearly giving it their all, their charisma isn’t enough to pull Baywatch from the depths of dull and predictable storytelling.
Dwayne Johnson’s character Mitch, throughout the movie, constantly refers to Zac Efron’s character Matt as boy-band names like One Direction & NSync. He also calls him High School Musical which was the tv show and movies that starred Zac.