Can we still be friends, Rock?
There is no doubt that Dwayne Johnson has a staggering amount of charisma. Most of his career has been shaped by how he captures the attention of audiences and brings them along for the ride. Even when he recently talked about running for president, there were plenty of people who would follow The Rock with whatever career path he chooses. Here at FSR are big fans of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, but Baywatch is another issue entirely. Not even Johnson can elevate the cavalcade of dick jokes and uneven pacing. Although he would like to think critics just didn’t get his movie.
A group of elite lifeguards is in the process of hiring some new recruits. Baywatch isn’t just another ragtag group of lifeguards that save people from drowning; these individuals protect the bay at whatever cost. Led by Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), rigorous trials are about to be held to determine who is has enough heart and determination to join the team. Matt Brody (Zac Efron) has other ideas of how this is all going to work out. As a disgraced two-time Olympic gold medal winner looking to serve his community service sentence, Brody thinks the rules don’t apply to him.
While Buchannon and Brody are chastising each other, often with ‘cute’ insults, there is trouble afoot. Businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) has been buying up much of the property along the bay to lock down her drug distribution ring. Slowly, but surely she has been buying out owners either by offering them large sums of cash or by threatening their lives. She has bought out politicians as well along the way so that even the police turn a blind eye to her scheme. This is a job for Baywatch.
Baywatch is only concerned about the overarching plot when runs out of dick jokes. During the early parts of the movie, the character of Ronnie (Jon Bass) is heavily featured along with his romance with lifeguard CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) in multiple uncomfortable situations. The most egregious of which is when Ronnie gets his large member stuck in a beach chair. Plenty of time is spent just analyzing the situation and how exactly to get Ronnie out of trouble. In fact, most of the romance between CJ and Ronnie can be summarized by how many times CJ looks at his massive package and then decides that this is a good enough reason to be romantically entwined with Ronnie.
Zac Efron also gets a romance of his own with fellow Baywatch trainee Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario). Perhaps much more interesting than the lack of sparks between Efron and Daddario is the absence of a love interest for Dwayne Johnson’s character. It was frequently reported leading up to Baywatch that Ilfenesh Hadera who is Mitch’s second-in-command at Baywatch, would be his love interest. The problem there is that it is the least developed and unfulfilled relationships of the entire feature. The budding bromance between Mitch and Brody certainly feels more real. There are plenty of instances where it seems as though Hadera’s Stephanie Holden should be accompanying Mitch on a specific subplot, but since Efron has been sold as the co-lead of the picture, he fills that role instead.
There is no shortage of movies based on popular TV shows of yesteryears. Baywatch was one of those shows that were never a critical darling and as such expectations should be in line with what we’ve always gotten from the franchise. Baywatch brings many of the signature elements of the show to the big screen with mixed results. The good-looking men and women of the team are all on display with their slow motion jiggles intact. Apparently plentiful customers and disguises were one of the series trademarks as well because there is no shortage of goofy outfits. It’s just that in recent years we expect more from TV show adaptations especially after films like 21 Jump Street and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. have set the bar for these adaptations.
As mentioned at the top, Dwayne Johnson is an extremely likable guy. So it is a little disheartening to see him joining the ranks of the filmmakers and actors who have publicly called out critics for disliking a movie. In this move, he joins other cinema ‘greats‘ who have said they don’t make movies for critics; they make them for the fans. ‘Great’ filmmakers like Michael Bay, Rob Schneider, and Kevin Smith have all chastised critics for going against them. This goes against what the persona Dwayne Johnson has worked so hard to develop. Most actors would usually take the bad reviews and try to make it up on their next film outing, not slash back against critics. Critics aren’t what made Baywatch a bad movie, the sum of the weak parts of the film did that.
In general, critics go to a feature hoping to enjoy the film. I’d imagine most people want to spend their time watching something that gives them joy and pleasure, than something that wastes their time. Critics, including myself, were not out to ‘get’ Baywatch or any other feature. Listen, Rock (Can I call you Rock?), we like you, and we wanted to enjoy your movie. Nothing screams summer movie season more than a movie about beautiful people by the water engaging in action stunts. Baywatch just misses the mark in so many ways that it is hard to recommend it.