The nostalgia-movie remake is a crowded market. Mining the 70s and 80s for movie classics in the hope they will translate to a modern audience seems like a safe idea but the results have been hit and miss at best. For every Jump Street there is a CHiPS. For every Starsky and Hutch, there is a Miami Vice. Baywatch is an obvious choice but if handled badly could have gone the way of the “too cheesy” or “too self-referential” to actually work. If this movie was going to be successful it had to have characters who took their job seriously in a movie that didn’t take itself too seriously. Luckily, they cast the perfect actor.
Although he doesn’t resemble David Hasselhoff in any way, Dwayne Johnson makes a perfect Lt. Mitch Buchannon. The opening ten minutes of the movie manages to demonstrate how ridiculous the idea of Baywatch is while setting the tone perfectly. Buchannon is a hero to everyone and manages to make a simple jog along a beach eventful and funny. The opening forces you to raise a smile and warns you that this won’t be the silly drama that your Dad used to watch.
This is an out-and-out comedy. It doesn’t pretend otherwise. Going the same ilk that the Jump Street series did, it takes the simple premise of the TV show and ranks it up to ten: mocking and exaggerating each of the silly intricacies that made the show famous. There are ridiculously beautiful lifeguards taking their job far too seriously; situations which the police should be dealing with but have fallen to lifeguards to sort-out and of course, people running slowly.
All of this is done with a big Dwayne Johnson smile on the face. He gets to show-off his muscles, his comedy timing and his famous action-hero credentials without ever really breaking a sweat. He carries the film and is the reason it works so well. Although he has an able cast to help support him in that venture.
The transformation of Zac Efron from Disney child-star to adult comedy-star is a remarkable one. Here he plays against Johnson perfectly, managing to go toe-to-toe with him in the charm, ridiculous lines and sculptured body (well almost). He seems to play the outside audience looking at how silly it all is but soon gets swept-up in all the action too.
With all this silliness and gross-humour set-pieces, it is easy to forget that there is an actual story to Baywatch. Unfortunately, it is when the movie tries to tell it that it loses it’s way. The movie, like many others of the same ilk, works best when it isn’t constrained by the needs of a story or a scene. It means that when the plot needs pushing forward, you find yourself waiting patiently for the next comedy set-piece.
That is also the reason why the third act loses it’s way slightly. The idea of “detective-lifeguards” only gets you so far and this movie pushes that concept to it’s breaking point. It is left with a balls-out, explosive finale which fits The Rock perfectly but doesn’t really help the other actors or general comedy-feel of the rest of the movie.
Overall, Baywatch works but only just. It takes itself just seriously enough without becoming too self-aware. A lot of the success is down to the charm and charisma of Dwayne Johnson but Zac Efron manages to step-up to him too. Unfortunately, like many silly-comedies, the attempts to tell a story seem to get in the way.
Rating – 3
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