Originally posted June 5th, 2017 on thedistantcloseup.com
Recalling my take on Joe Swanberg’s Win It All a little over a month ago, sometimes a film is only as charming as the talent collected on screen. Had Seth Gordon’s Baywatch revival not featured the intensely likable Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in the lead role, not only would it be floundering much worse at the box office currently, it’d be a much worse film.
Such is indeed his presence, even if it couldn’t completely save something as misguided as this.
One thing 2017 has taught us thus far is that revisiting and reviving old brands, film or television, doesn’t always pay the dividends studio execs hope for. The Return of Xander Cage, the much belated third film in the xXxseries, was a decent financial success, whereas Saban’s Power Rangers has failed to meet expectations and CHiPs is just another soulless body in a pile of ill-advised choices from Warner Bros. this year. Paramount certainly must have believed that Baywatch wouldn’t suffer a similar fate given the $69 million production budget thrown behind it, but a long Memorial Day weekend wasn’t enough, and as of writing this, the film’s worldwide totals have yet to match that figure.
But what could be the reason for such failure? Was it because Wonder Woman stole whatever chance it could have had to get back on track? Maybe its approach to the campy source material didn’t resonate with viewers, anyway? Or perhaps it was a mix of both factors; anything to explain away how the film drastically lost out to a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Having to fend off one of this summer’s most eagerly anticipated films is no small task for any feature, but having a more succinct vision from Gordon and his band of merry writers – six of them, actually – wouldn’t have hurt. In fact, it’s arguably this film’s biggest problem and contributes to a whole host of secondary issues. It cannot decide if it wants to be an endearingly self-aware reboot in the vein of 21 Jump Street, a full-blown raunchy bro-ming of age bromedy or an effective amalgamation of either post-modern mainstream comedy trend, and all that comes across is laziness as a result.
Examples of the former option lack any creative punch, the second is unsurprisingly plagued by convention and the transition between either feels too jarring for a punchline to register. Not such a wonderful facet when The Rock is the only thing keeping this ship from completely sinking. No matter what film you stick Dwayne Johnson in, you can expect nothing less than full commitment and enthusiasm. After all, those are core concepts to his own brand, but you can’t help but get the genuine impression that he has fun with whatever character he plays.
His co-stars, however, are something less than stellar, existing in the overbearing shadow that is The Rock and his undeniable charisma. Perhaps fellow co-star Zac Efron stands out as the down-on-his-luck, self-indulgent former athlete who needs to learn the value of teamwork, but everyone else is rather bland and ineffective, which is disappointing considering the number of them who spurn their opportunities. In fact, there are too many protagonists clogging up this screenplay, in the first place.
If the approach to this Baywatch was unfocused in its comedic intent, then it is equally so with its meandering plot, bouncing back and forth between the main storyline and a handful of uninteresting B-narratives that either bow down to clichés or barely pass as a chuckle-worthy skit. Not to mention altogether distract from the primary scriptural motivation, which still is merely a half-baked hand drawing of 21 and 22 Jump Street’s central struggle. All primary and secondary plots get stretched out beyond rational purpose, as elicited by an astonishing 116-minute runtime, and what ought to be mindless summer entertainment as a bare minimum becomes a real slog.
Maybe Baywatch was a brand worth restoring given any trend’s propensity to recycle itself every 20 years, but this certainly wasn’t the approach to take. Fleeting moments here and there suggest the passable summer comedy it could have been, as well as the brains it could have put on display, but each minute grows more irritating than the last. Hardly the worst this summer will have to offer, sure, but we shouldn’t be ready to rave about the inevitable contrast.