David Hasselhoff’s sun-drenched soap opera was a hallmark of ’90s television, becoming the most watched show in the world.
A movie version has been in the works for years, but this week we finally see the return of swimsuits and slow motion running. Dwayne Johnson takes over from The Hoff as Mitch Buchannon, the committed leader of a lifeguard team who reluctantly hires Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a cocky, disgraced Olympic swimmer, as a publicity stunt. The pair clash but must work together to solve a case involving drugs and bodies washing up on their shores.
Baywatch is not the first ‘90s adaptation this year, but it is the most problematic. How do you adapt a show that was basically about pretty people in swimsuits in a way that’s not only interesting but doesn’t offend today’s sensibilities? Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon’s answer is to re-imagine it as a tongue-in-cheek comedy, not dissimilar to the 21 Jump Street remakes. It takes a cookie-cutter mystery narrative that wouldn’t have been out of place on the small screen version, and then peppers it with knowing gags, a passable number of which hit the mark.
Also key to the charm is the duo of Johnson and Efron, who riff well off each other. The former wrestler (and would-be President) is a surprisingly gifted comic, and while Efron is mostly there as eye candy, he has no problem at sending himself up. Elsewhere, Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach affectionately poke fun at the show’s male gaze perspective, and Priyanka Chopra is in full pantomime villain mode as a corrupt businesswoman. And yes, a certain ’80s icon makes an appearance (following his Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2 cameo, the Hoff will have seen his coffers significantly filled in 2017).
Even with a 21st century update, Baywatch is more beauty than brains, but that will come as a surprise to precisely no one. Baywatch, mercifully, never takes itself too seriously, and if you can adopt the same mindset, it’s a fun, disposable day at the beach.