Despite bombing at the box office and being generally lambasted by critics, Seth Gordon’s cinematic adaptation of ’90s TV kitsch icon Baywatch isn’t quite as bad as you might expect. That “quite” I threw in there is pretty important because, by all critical metrics, Baywatch is a tedious, generally stupid little movie. But it’s the kind of bad that’s merely forgettable, as opposed to aggressively awful. You can sit through it and get a few small chuckles, but beyond that, good luck.
This doesn’t stop Gordon and company from trying to be obnoxious. In most ways, Baywatch is pretty insufferable, never climbing past a sense of humor that relies on little more than the anatomical and the childishly sexual. There’s also a layer of idiotic, needless machismo here, where our two leads — Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron — spend their time trying to determine who’s more musclely and less gay, while every woman on screen is generally there to gawk at.
I suppose this is possibly in line with the general tone of the original television show. I certainly can’t remember, since even though I was the target demographic (prepubescent, tasteless) for the show in the ’90s, hell if I remember watching more than an episode. It was more a pop culture phenomenon and the butt of jokes (like the whole running in slow motion nonsense), which is about the level of understanding the movie has of the show, too. I’m not opposed, necessarily, to an action comedy being made out of some silly, defunct television show. I actually like Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 21 Jump Street (2012) more than I should ever admit, and Baywatch, with its mild irreverence and over-the-top fits of action, is obviously tailored after Lord and Miller’s film.
But Baywatch is obviously the impostor here, relying more on nostalgia and a sense of humor based in the physiological. What it definitely is not is clever or particularly fresh. There’s a been-there-done-that vibe to the whole mess (something the six credited writers probably have a lot to do with), specifically the plot, which is nothing more than generic buddy cop sort of thing involving drugs and real estate deals and a nefarious mastermind. This could be any old movie, not specifically a Baywatch tangent, so there are a handful of references to the old show and a couple of shoehorned cameos from David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson to make things obvious.
The default position for a Baywatch movie is idiotic nonsense, so Gordon seems to have done as little as humanly possible. It’s a checklist of what’s expected from a theoretical Baywatch movie starring The Rock and Zac Efron — Johnson gets a fight scene, Efron takes his shirt off — and this is as far as Gordon, the studio and everyone else involved wants to go. Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content and graphic nudity. Now playing at AMC Classic, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.