Film Review: Set Your Sites Low, and “Baywatch” Mostly Entertains

Film poster: “Baywatch”

Baywatch (Seth Gordon, 2017) 2½ out of 4 stars.

The original Baywatch television series ran on NBC for just one season, 1989-1990, before the network cancelled it. Its star, David Hasselhof (previously known for Knight Rider), refused to accept no for an answer, and feeling that there was still an untapped market for a show about hot bodies running in slow motion (the better to emphasize boobs, biceps and pecs), Hasselhof successfully petitioned to have Baywatch relaunched, and it went on to earn huge international audiences, finally ending in 2001 (I am no aficionado, but there is plenty of information about its history online). Both he and his female co-star, Pamela Anderson, became icons of charming vacuousness.

And now we are back with a good-natured spoof of mostly all the tropes that made the show so popular, along with general goofiness, for added measure. This feature adaptation will win no awards (I hope), and is certainly no great art, but is genuinely enjoyable dumb fun, as long as one leaves most critical faculties behind. I could attempt to describe the plot in detail, but that very act would reveal its utter silliness, which might destroy what pleasures there are in simply sitting back and allowing the affable actors to lift your spirits. The key is to not think too much. Remember that.

Cast, l-r, running in slo-mo: Kelly Rohrbach, Alexandra Daddario, Ilfenesh Hadera, Dwayne Johnson, Zar Efron and Jon Bass. Photo by Frank Masi – © 2017 – Paramount Pictures

What joys there are come courtesy of the cast, which includes Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence), Zac Efron (Neighbors), Priyanka Chopra (ABC’s Quantico), Alexandra Daddario (San Andreas), Kelly Rohrbach (The CW’s The P.E.T. Squad Files), Jon Bass (Comedy Central’s Big Time in Hollywood, FL) and Ilfenesh Hadera (Showtime’s Billions). With the exception of Bass – whose role is to be the out-of-shape nerd who makes good – and Chopra, who plays the suit-dressed villain (not much of a plot spoiler, since she telegraphs this from the start), they all look great in swimwear, bouncing and jiggling in their own super slo-mo parodies of what made Baywatch famous in the first place. But these folks have more than just the talent of the flesh, and their engaging on-screen rapport and solid comic timing make the absurdities of the whole go down easy.

That said, this really is stupid stuff. Johnson plays the head of a beach lifeguard squad that somehow gets involved in crime-stopping above their pay grade. Efron shows up as a disgraced Olympic swimmer, too cool for school, who must learn to think beyond his own ego and become one with the team. Daddario and Bass are new recruits, and Hadera and Rohrbach round out the veterans. When Chopra’s evil developer schemes to gain control of the public beaches for her own private needs, and the local police do nothing, Johnson drags his fellow lifeguards into an ill-conceived plan to stop her. Things go badly, fall apart, etc., but then in true Hollywood fashion everyone rallies to the cause. Along the way, much skin and muscle are shown – especially from the ripped Johnson and Efron – as well as a fair amount of not-always-cartoonish violence (the film has an R rating). Anticipate little, and your rewards should exceed those low expectations.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. He is the lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a regular film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; an occasional writer for the magazine bmoreart.com; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice."
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