FILM REVIEW – BAYWATCH. With Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass. Written by Damian Shannon & Mark Swift. Directed by Seth Gordon. Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity. 116 minutes.
Movies like “The Brady Bunch” (1995) and “21 Jump Street” (2012) showed how one could bring old television shows to the big screen while having some fun with them. Many others have tried and failed, but BAY WATCH–based on the inexplicably popular series from the 1990s–turns out to be a lot more entertaining than it has any right to be. Credit the cheeky script by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift and a winning cast headed up by Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, neither of whom are afraid to make fun of themselves.
The movie, like the series, focuses on a group of lifeguards whose work takes them beyond rescuing errant swimmers. Here they’re up against Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) who fancies herself a villain from a James Bond movie. She is bribing and killing her way to take over the entire bay area beach to be used for her drug smuggling operation.
Meanwhile, Mitch Buchannon (Johnson), and lifeguards CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) are joined by three new trainees. Summer (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie (Jon Bass) have tried out before and have finally made it because Mitch sees they have “heart.” Then there’s Matt Brody (Efron), who has won two Olympic gold medals and is full of himself, not knowing how to be part of a team.
The plot involves them exposing Victoria’s operation even as local authorities tell them to just focus on their lifeguard duties. The fun of the movie is watching this group overcome their problems and work together, no matter how outrageous or silly the situations get. There is also enough action, daring rescues, and confrontations with the bad guys to make this something more than just a spoof.
As the film is rated R some of the material is decidedly on the raunchy side, but the targets are equal opportunity. The men are called out for their reaction to skimpy bathsuits worn by the women, while they also get the opportunity to redeem themselves. As Mitch says early on, he’s looking for people with “heart,” and that turns out to be the reason we cheer on these misfits.
There are a couple of cameos that are nods to the original TV series, but it all works even if you’ve never seen an episode. The point of “Baywatch” is to be an action comedy that generates laughs, provides eye candy for audiences of whatever orientiation (Efron’s look here may be real but it qualifies as a special effect), and demonstrates yet again how the wrestler once known as “The Rock” has turned into one of the most likeable screen personalities currently in the movies. This is clearly disposable summer entertainment that won’t linger in the memory, but sometimes something that’s amusing and that helps you forget your real world worries for a couple of hours is precisely what’s needed.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.