The 400-Word Review: Baywatch
By Sean Collier
May 29, 2017
Few forces in contemporary cinema are as effective as Dwayne Johnson’s earnestness. Action sequences that would seem ridiculous in the hands of less charismatic performers are completely plausible when regarded by the erstwhile Rock’s steely gaze; premises which would otherwise collapse into a heap are supported by Johnson’s ever-present, infectious good nature.
Perhaps that’s why he has become the poster child for revived franchises. He restored credibility (or at least viability) to the “Fast and Furious” films, kept the tepid “G.I. Joe” series alive for one more round and even made something out of a sequel to the utterly forgotten Journey to the Center of the Earth. This year, he has to pull that trick twice: Later in the summer with the fondly remembered (but mediocre-at-best) adventure flick Jumanji, and now with a big-screen version of the pulp television series “Baywatch.”
The Baywatch film is over-the-top and aware of itself, but still fundamentally in line with the unironic schlock of its source material. Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) runs a team of elite lifeguards tasked with protecting the waters of Emerald Bay, Florida; local law enforcement is lax, so it is left to the ersatz beach patrol to keep the peace. Unfortunately, local bigwigs want bumbling Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron) to be made into a lifeguard as something of a publicity stunt; meanwhile, a nefarious business tycoon (Priyanka Chopra) is trying to privatize the beach.
You’d think the plot doesn’t matter here, but to be clear, Baywatch isn’t a madcap comedy in the tradition of the 21 Jump Street film. Rather, it’s a take on the television show — volume turned up, stakes raised and comedy seasoned in. It’s funny, sure, but it’s an action-comedy; the action comes first.
As such, it’s ... fine, I suppose? Gather an attractive group of people (here also including Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera and token normal guy Jon Bass) in swimsuits and give them seaside strife to tend to and it will always be cinematic. Enough of the jokes work (though certainly not all of them); enough of the action sequences click (though the results are never in doubt).
It’s the rare film that is exactly the sum of its parts — no more, no less. Take bankable, charming performers, put them in a picturesque location and have them do reasonably entertaining things. It’s a formula that usually works out well enough.
My Rating: 6/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark