'Baywatch' Review: Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron's Raunchy Reboot Is Made for Bros
By John Boone
Photo: Paramount Pictures
Watching Baywatch, the R-rated reboot of the long-running '90s primetime soap, I finally understood how doctors and lawyers must feel when they watch TV, how difficult it is to focus on plot when your chosen profession is being depicted wildly irresponsibly. Having guarded lives throughout my teenage years, I must ask: are any of these people even CPR certified?! (Dead bodies do occasionally just wash ashore, though. That is true.)
Anyway, Baywatch revolves around "Lieutenant" Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson, taking on David Hasselhoff's small screen namesake), a lifeguard so proficient at his job that he knows when an accident is going to happen before it even happens, and his newest trainee: Matt Brody (Zac Efron playing, essentially, Ryan Lochte, had he attempted to rehabilitate his post-Olympics image by lifeguarding instead of Dancing With the Stars).
Alongside their colleagues -- Alexandra Daddario, Ilfenesh Hadera, Kelly Rohrbach and Jon Bass, the collective watchers of Emerald Bay -- they don't so much preoccupy themselves with water safety, but with the villainous scheming of Victoria Leeds (a purring Priyanka Chopra), whose evil plot I could never quite get my head around but which involves drugs and dead bodies and real estate. (Can we stop making "real estate" the bad guy's motive?)
If that sounds like the makings of a truly soapy romp, trust me, it's not. I wish it had been, but if Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon and the Baywatch team had embraced the TV show's campier qualities, The Rock might not get to be the coolest person in every scene. Efron, on the other hand, is as game as ever to play douchey and look ridiculous doing it, but maybe he shouldn't be so game anymore. They both get entire montages to showcase just how ripped they are.
In fairness, this is a symptom of a larger problem. I'm sick of hard-R reboots of series from the '80s and '90s, like 22 Jump Street and CHiPs, with their action sequences set to dubstep music, an air of gay panic and a gratuitous amount of F-words. Saying "f*ck" does not make something a joke. What "hard-R reboots" overlook is that jokes can sometimes be smarter under constraints. Jokes are sometimes more than just slow motion cleavage and pointing at a boner and laughing.
I take no pleasure in saying this, because Dwayne Johnson truly is one of the loveliest, most charismatic people in this town of tinsel. But his Baywatch (Johnson is an exec producer) is so...misguided. Baywatch, the show, was the "The Most Watched TV Show in the World," with weekly audiences of over one billion people in over 100 countries. And though the series similarly dealt in overly confident alpha males and buxom bikini babes, the majority of those viewers were reportedly female. So why is a Baywatch movie being tailor-made for bros? Hollywood, ugh.