I’ve been patient and forgiving with filmmaker Seth Gordon (who began his career with 2007’s acclaimed arcade doc The King of Kong) because I can see he’s slowly amounting to be a dependable director. Despite the abysmal and mean comedy Identity Thief, he’s usually able to drum up a lot of laughs with small casts (Four Christmases, Horrible Bosses, TV’s The Goldbergs). I suppose he’s been itching to branch out, but Baywatch was the wrong way to break out.
Baywatch seems conflicted. Maybe not on the surface (judging by the end credit bloopers, it appears everyone had fun), but this big-screen adaptation of a campy television show has way too many cooks in the kitchen. The screenplay was written by the team who penned Freddy vs. Jason and Michael Bay’s Friday the 13th remake – fair enough, I guess. But then, you have horror auteur Eli Roth credited as a co-producer, Ivan Reitman as a producer, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (Reno 911!: Miami) taking co-credit for the story, and leading star Dwayne Johnson contributing as an executive producer. There are 16 (!) other producers attached to this blockbuster, including all three of the TV show’s original creators. This is a glaring foreshadow of how overstuffed and convoluted the actual movie is.
There are plenty of funny, charismatic people contributing to Baywatch, including actors Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, and Hannibal Buress. However, because there are so many people driving this ship, Baywatch can’t decide if it wants to primarily be a comedy or an action movie. Sure, we’ve seen action comedies, but the mixture of genres has to be even. The scale tips so often during Baywatch that it’s eventually intolerable. Then, there’s Seth Gordon who is trying his best, but failing to make any of his action scenes connect and botching the delivery of the below-the-belt broad jokes.
Many will give Baywatch an encouraging pat-on-the-back because the film feels like it’s “in” on the overarching self-awareness (much like the 21 Jump Street film franchise has done to great avail). The film calls attention to the absurdity of attractive lifeguards solving crimes, however that’s not really comedic – it’s more of an outspoken observation. Other than providing David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson with two of the laziest cameos I’ve ever seen (they’re literally “walk-ons”), Baywatch doesn’t do much more to build upwards. It would’ve succeeded by making the plot revolve around a bigger, more catastrophic problem with an over-the-top villain (much like the often forgotten satire Undercover Brother).
But, I always find my way back to Seth Gordon. If only a lifeguard would save him. He’s clearly in over his head with Baywatch.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie