The best part of Baywatch was that everyone on screen seemed completely invested in making it a good movie. It isn’t a good movie— it isn’t even particularly close to being a good movie— but the cast is willing to push as hard as they can to make it better. Baywatch is elevated from the train wreck I’m sure it is on the page in to a simply bland, kind of mediocre, film. Baywatch is a reasonably charming medley of punchless comedy, unintelligible story, and a generous amount of scantily clad pretty people. It’s the kind of movie to see on an exceptionally hot day, or if your first choice movie is sold out and you’ve already put in so much effort to park at the mall.
I paid careful attention to the story in Baywatch and I’m still not entirely sure what was going on. There’s Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), a new-in-town rich person who has some kind of scheme to buy up a bunch of property and create some sort of massive private beach club. She’s also a drug kingpin, but no one for the entire movie seems to care about the drugs at all so they end up being white crystalline breadcrumbs that just serve to tie things together. Because of civic corruption/incompetence, the only people who can stop this nefarious scheme are the local lifeguards led by Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and joined by pretty boy newcomer Matt Brody (Zac Efron), attractive newbie Summer Quinn (Alexandra D’addario), attractive veteran CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), attractive veteran with fewer lines Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), and not-so-attractive local wannabe Ronnie (Jon Bass). They are an elite cadre of small town lifeguards who also excel in detective work and infiltration techniques. They do an awful lot of meta-commentary on how insane it is that they all wear so many hats but it is never quite a substitute for having actual narrative justification.
I could forgive the flimsy plot if Baywatch was outrageously funny, but it just isn’t. Most of the humor is Johnson dunking on Efron in some capacity or another and you’ve seen that relationship a million times, probably half a dozen times where the dunker was The Rock, and most of those times it was being done better. There’s a fantastic sequence about someone getting their penis stuck in a wooden chair but you can probably get to most of that joke just from reading this sentence. It’s not that I never laughed or that the charm of the cast was never strong enough to deliver some average material— but the stakes are higher now. 21 Jump Street was a legitimately hilarious movie adapted from a reasonably irrelevant old TV show and it came out five years ago. You can’t do this much worse this much later and expect to get a pass.
One of the more fun moments in the 21 Jump Street movie is when Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise make cameos as their characters from the original series. It’s a cute nod and a bit surprising, especially considering Depp’s latter-day star power, and then they move on to finishing up their movie. They try to recreate this in Baywatch with David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson and fail on just about every level. To start with, both characters have identically named analogues in the movie and they bring this up so the Mitch Buchannon has a mentor who is also named Mitch Buchannon, and our Mitch works with a CJ Parker and then at the end we’re introduced to former employee Casey Jean Parker. I know we’re not supposed to be thinking too much about this movie but that’s bizarre enough to leap off the screen and smack you in the face. They also take all of the surprise out of the cameos (including one that’s the closing joke of the movie) by giving both Hasselhoff and Anderson prominent billing in the opening credits. Instead of being a cute surprise, it’s something you’re waiting for and trying to figure out during the slower moments. If Johnny Depp can set aside his ego to do something cute, you would think Hasselhoff and Anderson could too.
Baywatch the movie ends up feeling an awful lot like Baywatch the TV show. It’s a movie that doesn’t feel the need to hold itself to the same standard of production and narrative nuance because they have a bit of tawdry sex appeal and the charisma of The Rock. There’s enough charm here to pull through the stuff that doesn’t work, but not quite enough to feel like a movie worth the price of a ticket. Much like the original show, Baywatch is the perfect movie for a gap in a TV schedule or to randomly catch on a plane… but it isn’t quite ready for prime time.