I have never watched an episode of the original Baywatch television show. However, I have seen enough clips, parodies, homages and so on to realize that it is just one of those testosterone-fueled brain-less dumb shows that focuses on T&A rather than performances or coherence of plot. That doesn’t necessarily have a hard time translating to film. I bring to you Exhibit A: 22 Jump Street. While 21 Jump Street was a fun remake of an old TV show, the sequel knew exactly how to differentiate itself and stand out on its own by making the whole thing almost into a parody of itself. It wa so full of winking moments and clever plays on what people’s expectations would normally be with that sort of film that it went above and beyond what anyone could have ever expected of it.
The film begins with Lietenant Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson), lead lifeguard of the Baywatch squad, who has it all: a kick-ass team, a great job and a sparkling reputation that would make Tom Hanks jealous. Unfortunately, his whole world gets waylaid when a former Olympic gold medalist named Matt Brody (Zac Efron) must join the team as a part of paying his debt back to society in order to avoid serving time. Brody is a rebel and plays by his own set of rules, which is counteractive to Mitch, who tends to appreciate the whole teamwork aspect and even gets the squad involved in police investigations. When a drug ring starts making waves in the area, Mitch and the team are on the case even though reluctant Brody thinks they should let the police handle it.
If that plot seemed pretty straight-forward to you, that’s because it definitely is but here’s the problem: there are a million other subplots going on at the same time. The movie is kind of a mess even though it isn’t a complete failure on the level of something like King Arthur but it is still mostly dead in the water. There is one aspect of the movie that worked for me more than the main plot and that is the potential love interest angle between chubby-but-motivated trainee Ronnie (Jon Bass) and beautiful lifeguard CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach). The awkward chemistry between the two is amusing and kinda charming at times without being too ridiculous and even a crazy early scene where Ronnie is… stuck… in a plank of wood is made better by not having CJ react as you might expect her to in a movie of this ilk. They each have a few good moments in the film.
Most of the problems lay in the storyline itself. It’s not original in any way, shape or form. Sure, it can be argued that a “dumb comedy” like this doesn’t necessarily need a transcendent storyline to light the world on fire but it’s all been done before and better in other works. Many of the comedic set pieces are poorly executed or at least awkwardly executed with the pay-off not ever really being worth the journey. Sometimes a film like this can get away with having a really fun or particularly slimy villain but she is equally boring. A real estate scam? Framing lifeguards for people supposedly dying at sea in order to distract the police while they deal drugs and build an empire? Yay? It certainly doesn’t help that Priyanka Chopra herself is not very interesting in her performance either. She reads the lines and moves on.
What I DID like about the film were most of the other performers. The Rock and Zac Efron can do no wrong as actors in movies like this and despite the lack of actual quality writing, each man has the charisma to carry their lion’s share of the film to the best of their abilities. Other surprises are the previously mentioned Jon Bass as Ronnie. He has a likeable charm to his performance and like I mentioned, combined with the spunky comic timing of Kelly Rohrbach as CJ Parker, it makes for a fun dynamic. Alexandra Daddario is another real looker in this movie with her piercing blue eyes and statuesque form but she is also a fairly gifted comic actress and has some good chemistry with Efron. One thing I didn’t understand is that this film recruited Hannibal Burress for a small supporting role and literally did nothing with him. He is there to stand by while Bass does his physical humour schtick and then only re-appears later in the film to again be given nothing funny to do or say. The same can be said for Rob Huebel and Oscar Nunez from The Office, who pretty much do nothing as well.
The film’s strengths seem to lie in a few of its action sequences but even those wear thin after a while. They go for long stretches with nary a laugh but in between all of it, I can’t say that I was ever completely bored or anything but the whole movie is just so messy at times that it’s hard to make heads or tails out of what they are trying to accomplish with it all.
Oh, and SPOILER ALERT – the cameos are lame.
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)