The best thing I can say about Baywatch is that there were some scenes where I felt nothing at all. It is bad in the worst way you can be bad. Some films power through by being hilariously awful for goofs or offensively terrible for shock, but Baywatch is simply offensive. It’s laughless, uninteresting, and trashy.
Even knowing it is a movie based on a property famous for slow motion running to accentuate the effect of gravity on breasts and butts, it is still somehow more sexist than expected. To set the stage, Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) is a local legend and Fonzie-esque figure wherein he saves lives as a lifeguard while community members praise him like a false idol. He leads an elite group of other lifeguards called Baywatch, an organization that recruits new members through a Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course.
Matt Brody (Zac Efron) shows up to join the team after being disgraced as a former gold medal-winning Olympian. And then a mishmash of things happen where corruption in the local government erupts over some various misdealings around the beach, which naturally require lifeguards to become detectives. (It shamelessly skews towards the 21 Jump Street revival.)
Not that any of it matters. From the get-go, it’s clear that the intent of this film is to be the lowest brow possible. It wants to be funny in the way a comedian like Sarah Silverman is funny where an unabashed and slightly naive display of raunchy topics presents an intriguing juxtaposition. Instead, this movie only manages to be 116 minutes of swinging and missing at what should be easy gags.
There is one gaff, for instance, that is not just a dick joke but the joke is literally a dick. The funny thing is supposed to be that there’s an actual penis on the screen, and that’s about it. It’s not just played poorly but is also vaguely homophobic, which is somehow more offensive since that component is clearly unintended. (The same tasteless handling goes for a cross-dressing scene where the humor is just that it’s a man wearing a dress.)
If you’re thinking the action scenes would save this debacle, then you’re wrong there, too. It has absolutely zero understanding of how to create visual drama. An early sequence involves a ship going down in flames with several people stranded onboard. It should be exciting but it instead is a hurried and confused jumble of shots that ends in an explosion that isn’t the least bit foreshadowed. It just blows up, and when it does, you can’t help but wonder why this possibility wasn’t offered earlier so the audience could know the stakes.
The misogyny is amplified in ways not intended, too. Sure, these hard bodies want to show off their physical rewards, but then when a seasoned veteran of Baywatch in a colored woman is passed over for a promotion by a completely (and self-admittedly) inexperienced white man, it becomes about the systemic inequalities of sexism and racism. The trademark objectification manages to take an impossible backseat to ignorance.
Then there’s another female character in C.J. Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) that seems to exist only to be a trophy. Her entire existence is defined by her breasts and her lust for a man. Her arc begins and ends with her proximity to one man’s particular penis. Even though she and Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) begin as prominent figures in the story, they fade away to let Johnson and Efron take center stage, which transforms this objectification into an offensively casual one.
The men don’t get away unscathed either. Jon Bass plays Ronnie, a technologically minded Baywatch wannabe that is going into his third tryout for the squad. His entire existence is predicated on him being out of shape, Jewish, and a graduate in computer science and robotics, which naturally precludes him from being good at talking to women. The movie presents him as a self-contained foil where if you are any of these things, the only redeeming quality you can possibly have is a comically large penis.
No one learns anything save for Efron’s Brody, but the lesson he learns is the same one he gets five minutes into showing up in Florida. And then he keeps learning it over and over again for the next hour. No one changes except Ronnie and C.J. where they somehow end up having sex, the only perceivable reason being that the writers made it so. And no one has any motivations except the villain Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), motivations that can be boiled down to dollar signs.
Characters come and go for no reason, reliable comedic talents in Hannibal Buress and Rob Huebel flounder the entire way, and everyone seems liable to be replaced with cardboard cutouts. The only entertaining part is the constantly CGI’d sunglasses Johnson wears. Baywatch doesn’t care about anyone or anything within its musclebound boundaries, and neither should you.
Final Score: 2 out of 10