21 Jump Wave
Hollywood is kind of like that kid back in high school who would copy every popular thing that was out there just to be part of “in-crowd” when he or she really didn’t have any identity to begin with. It saw cinematic universes make billions of dollars, so now everyone else wants one. Similarly, 2011’s 21 Jump street was a surprise hit comedy that served as a parody of the original television show in addition to being a solid, laugh a minute spectacle; and now Hollywood wants to use the same trick with any popular 80s show. They already tries it with Chips, which apparently no one (including me) saw, and now they’re doing it with Baywatch. The thing about the show was that it existed solely for masturbation purposes…no seriously that’s it. Porn was hard to come by in the 80s so any form of titillation was the next best thing (see also: Victoria Secret catalogs). So can The Rock and Zac Efron make a decent comedy out of such an idea? Well…
Alright so Efron plays Brody, a hot shot Olympic swimmer who blew a team match and is now trying to get back his glory by joining up with lifeguard patrol in Emerald Bay, Florida. The patrol is headed up by Lt. Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) and his pair of veteran lifeguards (Ilfenesh Hadera and Kelly Rohrbach), and the trio take their job very seriously to the point that they get involved with matters far outside their jurisdiction, such as investigating a drug ring run by Priyanka Chopra. Oh yeah, and two junior lifeguards eager to please the team join up as well played by Alexandria Daddario (reuniting with the Rock after San Andreas) and Jon Bass, who plays the role of the fat guy so everyone can make fat jokes.
The set up isn’t…terrible, it’s just not doing anything out of the ordinary for the show. See Baywatch the show was more of a police procedural in a beach setting that made Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff household names in America through the 80s and 90s. While some episodes were a bit ridiculous, the show was played pretty straight and really wasn’t ripe for parody beyond everyone running in slow-mo. That was about the only joke anyone could mine out of the property successfully. It wasn’t like the original 21 Jump Street show which was just patently moronic in getting thirty-year old actors infiltrating high schools to teach kids to say “no” to drugs. So when Phil Lord and Chris Miller got a hold of the property, they had plenty to mock with their film. But they also understood for a comedy like this to work, you need to put your straight man type characters and throw them into an absurd world before they start becoming weird themselves. Seth Gordon, who directed Horrible Bosses (yay) and Identity Thief (nay), didn’t really do much to play with the original concept. Honestly, it may have helped the film overall.
See the situation we find ourselves with are characters who take their job way too goddamn seriously that they go above and beyond the call of duty to the best job imaginable…that’s not really funny. That’s a just a generic action movie set up, which would have been fine if we actually good and proper action. However, Baywatch gives you a bunch of low budget stunts that would look appropriate on a television budget, but it just looks ho-hum for a theatrical setting. 21 Jump Street also didn’t have a big budget for some spectacular stunts, but they made up for it by featuring two bumbling detectives screw their way up through an undercover investigation and actually forming a deep relationship between the two that made you root for them. But Baywatch doesn’t really have characters, it just has comedy actors injecting all their charisma for all they got and they tragically don’t have much to do.
Both Efron and Johnson have proven themselves time and time again with great comedic timing, and big personalities that fill the space for underwritten characters in lesser films (kind of like this one). Actually, no one in the cast did a bad job either. They’re all fine…but that’s it. I wasn’t laughing hysterically, but I wasn’t groaning through their delivery either. I felt pretty ambivalent about things, which is a shame because I really did like this cast, I just wish they were handed a better script and possibly a better director.
Because a comedy lives and dies by how much it can make you laugh, it’s also one of the most difficult types to review. You don’t want to spoil the best jokes, but it’s also hard to explain why some may fall flat for the same reason. My problem may have been that this film was hinting that the idea of lifeguards going around stopping drug dealers should be way funnier than what I’m seeing on screen. Their were two absurd scenes that genuinely got a chuckle out of me, but they felt fleeting to everything else which relied heavily on cursing up a storm. But swear words will only get you so many laughs before your audience starts to do their grocery list in their heads waiting for the film to end.
I’m usually in the mood for a good raunchy comedy, but this felt way too tame to be that aside from the occasional cuss. Baywatch feels like it didn’t know whether it wanted to be a riff on the old television show or just a straightforward action comedy with leads that consistently turn in solid performances. At the same time, the movie never once pissed me off or made me resent being in the theater. I guess hanging around Johnson and Efron made for a decent time in the end, but the film undercuts this great strength by separating them for a long stretch of time in third act. Seriously, I think Johnson had a prior commitment that he wanted to invest more time in, because Efron takes over the majority of this last portion. And while he’s fine on his own, this film really feels like it slows down without Johnson to taunt his co-star.
I think people are skipping Baywatch in theaters for good reason, this truly belongs in a Netflix queue sometime in the future and you’ll probably get a kick out of it there. Me? I think this is a pretty decent…