I was reading a Reddit thread about the Rock’s Twitter defense of Baywatch and stumbled on a comment that got me to thinking. “Fans love it, critics hate it,” Tweeted the Rock. Friscogonewild replied, ‘that’s because fans went to see boobs while critics, for whatever reason, went to see a movie.’ It kind of got me to me thinking about the absurdity of applying the same grading scale you use for movies like 12 Years A Slave or Raging Bull, to a movie like Baywatch.
That’s like comparing the scenery at the Grand Canyon to the view from the booth at your local McDonald’s. Both require the use of your eyesight but the comparison is still essentially irrelevant. A movie is just a container for whatever you put inside of if. And in Baywatch is a filthy circus. You’ve got the unitard wearing trapeze artists, the clowns, and the stressed overworked bodies of giant elephants. We can run down the plot of it since, yes it has one. Dwayne Johnson runs the LA Baywatch team of lifeguards. Zac Efron, a washed-up Olympic swimmer joins them, and they stop a drug dealer.
That’s pretty much it. 101 The movie tries very hard to pay homage to its source material with cameo’s and inside jokes but I think it misunderstands exactly what it’s source material was. Baywatch is based on the television show starring David Hasselhoff that I caught the endings of from time to time when I was a kid as it aired in front of episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation. The show was famous for 2 things: slow-motion jiggle and untold levels of camp. Given the thing people find most memorable about it, it would be easy to overlook the fact that Baywatch was a family show. Simple moral tales and ocean adventure.
Plus Pam Anderson. And now thanks to Deadpool making half a billion dollars in less than two and half weeks, studios have realized they don’t have to cater to their films for teenagers to make a profit. But there’s a difference between a movie earning an R-rating because that’s the way those character’s living that life would talk (the rock and roll lifestyle being lived by Jonah Hill and Russell Brand in Get Him to the Greek for instance) versus characters dropping dozens of casual F-Bombs because the screenwriters were told that R-rated comedies are hot right now.
Which is more the approach here. And boy is Baywatch a hard R. For instance, there is a protracted bit that involves a corpse’s flaccid penis which is unflinchingly left on the screen for a good amount of time. But the thing is, if that sounds horrifying to you totally out of context you should know, I did laugh. More than a few times at this movie. Despite the issues I’ve mentioned so far, the movie bends over backward to be entertaining and succeeds for a time. The Rock has a smile that could end the next ice age and he and Zack Efron have some great chemistry together.
Efron’s character Brody is intended to be the heart of the movie, as he tries to come to grips with having blown his Olympic success. And his banter and johnson measuring contests with the Rock make for some fun silly vaudeville. Then the movie gets confused and seems to believe we need some kind of closure on the drug plot, and shifts to into a tedious and unfunny caper section for the last half hour that had me yawning. When it ends, all of the character conflicts have magically resolved themselves. Well…both of them.
Brody has come to terms with his mistakes and found a new home with the Baywatch team and the schlubby awkward guy with the crush has gotten the absurdly attractive blonde lifeguard who was previously oblivious to him. So, should you pay to go see this movie? No, probably not. But if it’s late one night, you’re a couple of glasses of red in and happen to find it on HBO, you could do worse. I’ve read some reviews here and there criticizing Baywatch’s action scenes or overuse of green screen. I interpreted those as an homage to the campiness of the original show but again, I feel like those kinds of critiques miss the point.
This is a movie that begins with a low angle shot of the rock rising the water while behind him the flaming title ‘Baywatch’ towers while dolphins leap from the ocean and spin in the air. As my friend Chris asked profoundly when we were leaving the theater, “I mean, the plot of commando was terrible, but I also didn’t care, I want to watch Arnold crack wise and kill people. So was commando bad because it was stupid and had no plot and terrible acting? Or was it awesome because Arnold killed a dude with a huge pipe and said “let off some steam” Forrest Gump: “Maybe it’s both?”