Movie Review: Baywatch (2017)
Is Seth Gordon the worst comedy director in Hollywood? Here are his four feature films with their Rotten Tomatoes scores:
- Four Christmases (2008): 24%
- Horrible Bosses (2011): 69%
- Identity Thief (2013): 19%
- Baywatch (2017): 19%
I actually asked that question back in 2013 when “Identity Thief” topped my list of worst movies of the year. Since then, Seth has been directing TV shows I’ve never seen (“Marry Me,” “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” “Sneaky Pete,” and “The Goldbergs”), but now he’s back in the theater, with this monstrosity, so it's time to ask it again.
We get one good running gag. Mitch (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is the can-do lead lifeguard at a vacation resort in Broward County, Fla., who’s saved the life of practically everyone’s mother/aunt/son in the community, and who realizes, as the movie opens, that there’s a drug problem on the beach. Flaca is washing up on shores. Eventually dead bodies, too. So he and his team investigate. The gag is pointing this out.
“Am I the only one who thinks this is clearly a job for the police?” asks Matt Brody (Zac Efron), the two-time Olympic gold-medalist swimming champion.
Oddly, a minute or two later, Matt says virtually the same thing, but the line lands with a thud: “This is the real world, Mitch. Lifeguards can’t do shit.”
Someone needs to send Seth off to study why the first line is funny and the second isn’t.
Too many recent comedy-satires spend their first half mocking the idiotic tropes of the genre and the second half buying into those tropes. (See: “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” “21/22 Jump Street.”) How an ordinary guy fits into the Hollywood fantasy is usually funny, because it points out the absuridty of the Hollywood fantasy. But apparently Hollywood can only see a way out by having the ordinary guy suddenly become the Hollywood fantasy. He proves he’s brave, stops the bad guy, gets the girl. We mock our cake and eat it, too.
“Baywatch” is worse because it does this at the same fucking time. Brody is right—drugs and dead bodies washing up on shore isn’t a job for lifeguards. But Mitch is right, too: He’s the one best equipped to save the day. The movie really needs to see Mitch as a self-important douche, but it doesn’t. It sees him as the hero. Right from the beginning.
Maybe that could’ve been the joke? Mitch running along the beach, thinking he’s a hero, saving and helping everyone, while in his wake, everyone complains about what a nosey fucker he is and how his beach is the most dangerous in the country.
The idiot plot: The evil Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) is importing drugs to drive down real estate prices in order to buy out everyone. Then she plans to make the beach private.
The idiot relationship subplots:
- The selfish Brody has to learn to become a team player. (He does.)
- He has eyes for another newbie lifeguard, Summer (Alexandra Daddario). Will they get together? (They do.)
- Meanwhile, a third newbie lifeguard, Ronnie (Jon Bass), a schlubby Jewish tech guy, who gets on the team because "he has heart,” suffers a series of embarrassing moments with his not-so-secret crush C.J. (S.I. swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach). These include getting an erection after she performs the Heimlich maneuver on him, then getting that erection caught in the slats of a wood raft he falls on to avoid detection. But will he and C.J. get together in the end? (They will.)
The whole Ronnie thing is just the worst. It’s never commented upon—the absurdity of his being where he is with who he is simply to placate all the schlubby guys in the audience. He’s comic relief, but not comic. I don’t know if Bass is the unfunniest Jewish guy in Hollywood or if Seth Gordon simply drains the funny out of everything he touches, but it's brutal to watch.
Of course we get cameos from the TV stars, including David Hasselhoff as Mitch, Mitch’s mentor, who gives him the “Get back in the game” pep talk; and Pam Anderson, the original C.J., as “Casey Jean,” who’s now a suit-wearing executive, and whose face, 20 years after her heyday, has become a horror show of the work that’s been done on it. Imagine if they'd commented upon that. Instead, they have to pretend she's beautiful. That's brutal, too.