Baywatch – Self-mocking magic on the big screen
Growing up in the 90’s I vividly remember watching the TV series Baywatch. David Hasselhoff with his hairy chest and Pamela Anderson with her slow-motion running and big (*cough cough*) eyes. Thinking back it was a really ridiculous show, but somehow we kept on watching, week in and week out. It was something different from all the other soaps and series of its time and offered viewers a more adrenaline-pumping storyline as we intently watched lives being saved by these brave lifeguards.
When I heard the once popular TV series would be revived as a movie, I was skeptical like most. But being a huge fan of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who acted as co-producer and starred as the film’s lead), I had to give this movie a fair chance. Director Seth Gordon is well-known in the comedy genre (Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief), and Damian Shannon and Mark Swift have quickly become a winning screenplay writer combo (Freddy vs Jason and Friday the 13th). A so-dramatic-it’s-funny introduction sequence with the movie title rising from the water sets the mood for an enjoyable, laughable watch.
Baywatch revives the popular character Mitch Buchannon that was portrayed by The Hoff in the TV series. Mitch (Johnson) is a devoted lifeguard who heads a team of lifeguards in Emerald Bay in Florida. Together they form an elite division popularly called Baywatch. Every year Baywatch recruits new members to their committed team and that’s when the drama kicks in. Matt Brody (Zac Efron) is a former Olympic swimmer and thinks he can just walks into the job, but is quickly stopped in his tracks by Mitch. Matt’s casual, cocky attitude rubs Mitch the wrong way from the get-go and Matt has no choice but to go through tenuous tests just like the other hopefuls before being selected as part of the team. Matt, alongside Ronnie (John Bass) and Summer (Alexandra Daddario) are selected as the chosen three and have to find their feet in the life-threatening, never-a-dull-moment job of saving lives in the Bay.
Just when you think the story is only going to focus on Mitch and Matt’s stormy relationship, a new layer is added to the film. The lifeguards uncover a criminal plot involving drugs and a sketchy resort owner who threatens the future of the Bay. Even though they are urged to stick to saving lives and to leave the criminal stuff for the police, the team is steadfast to solve the mystery no matter what it takes. Mitch and Matt have no choice but to put their differences aside and work together.
The first thing you notice about the dialogue and plot is how much more in-your-face and at times vulgar the story, and especially the humour, is compared to the series. R-rated elements like violence, nudity, gory images and strong language are interwoven into familiar elements the show has become known and loved for. Female lifeguards dressed in revealing cleavage-overload swimwear, male lifeguards’ sexy bods being showcased whenever possible and the slow motion running alongside the water. But who’s complaining, right? I quite like the edgier approach the writing team opted for with the script. Yes, sometimes the jokes are cringe worthy and you won’t laugh for everything, but a good blend of comedy is wrapped up to be enjoyed by a variety of tastes.
The chemistry between Johnson and Efron works very well on screen. With their excellent portrayal of very different personalities, their joint effort really draws the audience in. Johnson proves yet again that he is far more than a WWF wrestler and Efron has now totally shaken off his teeny bob High School Musical image (by the way, listen out for the comic HSM joke!). The other actors give average to above average performances and I’d say the two best supporting actors are John Bass who plays the chubby, loveable Ronnie and Priyanka Chopra (known for Mary Kom, Barfi! and more recently the TV series Quantico), who portrays the villainous Victoria. A somewhat forced, but yet hilarious, cameo appearances by Hasselhoff and Anderson, adds that extra touch to the movie.
The really cool thing about Baywatch is how it owns its ridiculousness. It isn’t apologizing for its absurd postmodern twist on a TV phenomenon – it embraces it. If you watch the film expecting to see the next big comedy masterpiece, you are watching it for all the wrong reasons. Time-travel back to the 90s and be wowed by the preposterousness of a story and characters that kept us coming back for more for over a decade.
Baywatch is directed by Seth Gordon, and stars Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. It’s in cinemas from 2 June.
Dee is a Jack of many trades and perhaps a master of some: writing, MC’ing, presenting, acting and the occasional afternoon nap.