American comedies are stuck in a rut and Baywatch isn’t the solution.
Baywatch is the latest in an increasingly long line of self-aware remakes of ‘80s and ‘90s TV shows to be given the Jump Street treatment. Lewd, crude and 100% aware of its own stupidity, this new breed of comedy remakes is following the trail blazed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, only to much less success.
Let me say this straight up; Baywatch is not a good movie in any quantifiable sense. It’s really dumb, aggressively stupid and a blatant attempt to cash-in on the same vein of ‘90s nostalgia that prompted Hollywood to think a gritty reboot of Power Rangers was a good idea. It’s every other raunchy R-rated comedy (Bad Neighbours, Horrible Bosses) redressed, reheated and rereleased into cinemas just like we get every couple of months.
And yet, despite this pervading sense of suffocating mediocrity, it’s incredibly hard to critique a film like Baywatch. Not because it’s a shining star of wit and ingenuity, but because the film and everyone involved are leaning really hard into its own silliness in an awkward and ham-fisted attempt to appear cool or irreverent. They want us to think they’re in on the joke too, almost like they know the film is disposable and just kinda crap but they’re going to roll with it anyway because trying is for losers. Let me tell you, two hours of stifling smugness and self-importance does not make for a good time.
That’s not to say Baywatch doesn’t offer some semblance of entertainment. There are a handful of amusing gags in here, such as the playful banter and one-upmanship displayed by Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. The former, as always, is immensely likeable and the latter wholeheartedly embraces his meathead typecasting with gusto. A couple of the supporting characters, namely Jon Bass’ Ronnie and Alexandra Daddario’s Summer, deliver some laughs also.
But Baywatch isn’t able to give them much to work with. Efron’s character struggles to find a consistent arc throughout the film, covering everything from sympathetic and washed-up to dim-witted and clumsy whilst lead love interest Summer has next to no discerning character traits whatsoever, tasked instead with spending 80% of her screen time on the fringes of the frame looking bemused and batting her eyelashes.
Maybe I’m just thinking about this too much, but one could make the case that Baywatch is emblematic of everything wrong with mainstream Hollywood comedies nowadays. Underdeveloped on plot, overlong on runtime, overdependent on improvisation and unnecessarily crude for the sake of it, Baywatch really doesn’t do anything other than the bare minimum. It’s got boobs, bums and biceps, some of which are attached to fine specimens like Efron and Daddario. Throw in a couple of lazy cameos, uninspired action sequences and an ending that sets up the sequel and there’s your film.
If you ask me, that’s not nearly enough when it comes to the vast range of techniques a filmmaker could and should employ to make an audience laugh. When your biggest gag is an aroused fat kid getting his knob stuck in a sun lounger, you know something needs to improve.
Baywatch is available in Australian cinemas from June 1
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures