Before I’d even walked into the screening, I felt like I’d already watched Baywatch. The film has been so relentlessly promoted via cinema trailers and social media that I felt like I had unintentionally watched most of it, and I worried that I’d already seen all the funny parts. I realised during the opening sequence that my fears were to be unfounded: as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson emerges from the water in slo-mo, a rescued paraglider paraglider in his arms and dolphins inexplicably flipping behind him in celebration, the tone for the film was set and I knew we were in for a good time. Taking cues from ‘21 Jump Street’, Baywatch quickly makes you feel like you’re in on the gag, owns its absurdity totally runs with it.
The film follows Mitch Buchannon and his group of incredibly good-looking and good-natured team of lifeguards who patrol a Florida beach, keeping it safe from all kinds of riff-raff. When it’s time for them to select 3 new recruits for the team, Mitch is forced by his boss to take on Matt Brody, a disgraced former Olympic swimmer who’s earned himself the nickname “Vomit Comet” when he threw up in the pool after a night of drinking. When Mitch discovers that his precious bay is at the centre of a massive drug ring, he and the lifeguards decide to investigate.
You have to admire the risk that would have been involved in the decision to reboot Baywatch. It is a weird choice of source material for a movie in 2017: the TV show was very much a product of its time, the kind of cheesy, so-bad-it’s-good (scripted) programming that could only thrive before we had the internet and reality TV. Thankfully, director Seth Gordon and screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift have approached the reboot the best way possible: tongue firmly in cheek, keeping the audience in on the gag the whole way through, and making it fun. There are Farrelly Brothers-esque penis jokes and plenty of exposed toned and tanned flesh, but the camerawork here is nowhere near as leery as that of the show.
The actors in the movie are much better than the actors in the series (admittedly not a high bar, but still). Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has appeared in 3 movies over the last 6 months and I am not complaining one bit. The man has an incredible sense of comedic timing and his star quality is through the roof. Zac Efron fulfils the potential I always knew he had to play a knucklehead beefcake, and Priyanka Chopra milks every second on screen as the villain Victoria Leeds, delivering her lines with a with a cool confidence and a Bond Villain smirk.
The film takes a turn for the absurd in the second half when it becomes more of an action than a comedy, and as is the case with with nearly all blockbuster-season films, it is about half an hour too long. Even so, I laughed almost all the way through and enjoyed the sun, sand, and silliness. It’s Baywatch: outrageous, escapist fun.