By Laurie Coker
A film that purposely makes fun of itself works, if even on the most asininely inane level. The Baywatch movie, starring Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, does just that – with no apologies and none are needed. Director Seth Gordon, working from a script offered by a half dozen writers, uses every gag, pratfall and joke in the book and does so sometimes in slow motion. The sand of the bay is riddled with bikinis, boards, bags, beach bums and not-so-covert criminal activity. In a tale of good versus evil, Baywatch lifeguards race to curtail murder and drug trafficking on their otherwise nearly perfect beats.
The film opens just as lifeguard tryouts begin and even with only three open spots, two-time Olympic gold medal swimmer, Matt Brody (Efron) thinks he is a shoo-in, but Mitch Buchannon (Johnson), a legendary figure who has saved the life of seemingly every citizen in the fictional Emerald Bay, thinks otherwise. The two butt heads from the start and the interaction for the most part is hilarious. Efron, the perfect male specimen, stand in the shadow of the bulky “Rock,” but the match up delights. Johnson has a charmingly affable persona and he carries it in full force. They never take themselves too seriously and the campiness makes for some laugh-out-loud moments. It is really no surprise that the pair appear to be having an uproariously good time. Adding to the hilarity is a secondary story involving Ronnie (Jon Bass), a gawky, pudgy tech geek who is determined to join Mitch’s well-sculpted team, having tried out time after time. Once the guards are assembled, they embark on a covert operation to stop Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) from selling drugs and killing off the people in her way.
Given that Baywatch was one of the most popular television show of the 1990’s a few well-placed cameos (David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson) and typical corny plot pay excellent homage. Brody’s ego is as big as Mitch is buff, and both men cheese it up well. Efron flexes his muscles and Johnson flashes that priceless toothy smile. And the gals – va-va-voom – but seriously the awkward “relationship” between sexy, blond C.J Parker (supermodel Kelly Rohrbach in a role made famous by Anderson) and Ronnie offer up some cute comical amusement. Coopra knows how to play a detestable villainess and Alexandra Daddario (as newbie Summer Quinn) and Ilfenesh Hadera (as Mitch’s right-hand guard Stephanie Holden) round out the cast of beauties at Emerald Bay beach.
Seriously, Baywatch is silly – filled with caricatures and comedy, some pretty bad, but it works as a mindless summer pop-corny movie. Like the show, the movie plays on its sex-appeal as much as anything else. Still, hidden not so far below the surface of the Baywatch waters are some valuable messages about loyalty, perseverance, determination, good health habits and goodness winning out over evil. As shallow as the story and characters mostly skin-deep, there is a confidence in the film’s superficiality that wins the audience over. If I thought I could get pulled from the waves by any of these folks, I’d shout help at the top of my lungs and flail like a lunatic. I am placing a C+/B- in my grade book. It is a solid, nonsensical fun day at the beach.