There’s two dick jokes in Baywatch. Well, I mean there’s more than two dick jokes in Baywatch, come on, but there are two major setpiece dick jokes. The first is when a dude gets his boner stuck between the slats of a deck chair. The second comes when Dwayne Johnson asks Zac Efron to examine a corpse’s genitals for track marks. To be fair to the movie, the film actually gives us actual full frontal nudity for that second one, the one where the nob ain’t attached to a young actor who probably don’t want to kill his career just yet.
At the same time you get the sense that the film wants that johnson (not Dwayne) to be a meaningful one. There’s a sense of barter to it, as if it can throw up one donger and that’s gonna excuse all the ways the camera treats women. Dwayne Johnson’s Mitch gets far too many monologues here about what Baywatch represents: alternately teamwork, duty, heart and in some cases the very beach itself. It tries too hard, we all know the true meaning of Baywatch, broadcast television softcore porn.
There’s a scene here where Alexandra Daddario’s Summer criticises Zac Efron’s Brody for staring at her tits in the swimsuit she’s wearing. It’d be a nice moment if the film were in any way aware of the rampant male gaze of the camera. When you’re approaching the world of the 21 Jump Street rip off (that film was five years ago now) there’s a certain amount of bullshit you expect because frankly few comedy directors come anywhere close to Lord and Miller. But this one’s Baywatch, and it feels like that name’s given them licence.
The film treats it’s women poorly. I get it, you bagged Johnson and Efron, those are two big gets and you want to get the most out of them, but give your chicks something to do. There’s a espionage scene where Daddario’s role is the lookout. Great, talented actor, just standing at a door, nailed it. Flick seems more involved in objectifying their bodies anyway, something which it notably ain’t with the dudes. Sure it avoids the worst possible fat jokes when it comes to Jon Bass’ misfit chubby dude role, but when the focus is on Dwayne or Zac their bodies remain unexamined. Now it ain’t like the solution to all our problems lies in objectifying men, but in a Baywatch film…
The only woman to escape this sort of treatment is the villain and Priyanka Chopra does her best in the worst most boring villain role possible. It’s like for all her scenes the film just forgets it’s supposed to be a comedy. There’s no jokes because she’s forced to handle the majority of the exposition that keeps the film ticking along until our leads actually start being proactive. It’s totally not her fault but it’s like when she appears you just start to tune out because you know the joint’s going to be real boring for a good few minutes.
Not that any of the other minor characters get much better treatment. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is handed the knock off Ice Cube schtick that’s been a necessary part of the formula since Jump Street. You know, just without any of the self-awareness or nuance that actually works in that performance. Even worse is they split the role into two, he’s the cop angry at the Baywatch team for disturbing his investigation, then there’s the boss played by Rob Huebel who has to try manage them. When you do that, you lose the whole love/hate dynamic that makes the character interesting, we just got two boring ass dudes who don’t get no funny interplay. That said, Yahya, coming off of the Netflix original series The Get Down, still manages to be a fun guy to watch.
Oh, and of course David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson show up. That’s not a surprise. Why didn’t I just take a nap right then and there? The Hasselhoff scene by the way involves the Mitch character shamlessly hawking Samsung phones. Like there this bit where the characters just looks right at the audience and is talking about all the qualities of the Samsung whatever, is it the Edge now, is that the Microsoft one? Whatever, the movie’s presenting it like, ‘Look how far he’s fallen, here’s this vision of the past to bring him hope.’ Maybe try separate the scenes of supposed emotional resonance from your capitalist sellout behaviour, movie.
I’m saying that like the whole rest of this movie ain’t some sorta capitalist nightmare all on its own. It totally is. I’m aware of how often I bring up Jump Street when I talk about these joints, it’s only because those are literally the only examples of this shit being done well. And why? 21 is about analysing the changing face of teen culture in the 21st century. 22 is not as good but actually has something to say about the drug wars that have sprung up as a result of the 1980s drug boom that the original show was produced in response to.
So how do you make a truly contemporary take on Baywatch? Well, you gotta examine the original’s relationship to titillation and create a version of that which reflects the way the world has changed in the past 20 years. Y’all gotta make it queerer, or you gotta explain why it ain’t so. All the characters in this flick are straight. Even the attractive women, which is like Hollywood’s easiest path to inclusivity, especially in media targeted at young men, are straight.
I’m not saying I want a Baywatch with some hardcore Dwayne Johnson XXX action, I’m just saying it’d be a more interesting film that ended up in the cinemas this week.
Baywatch is currently screening in UK cinemas