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baywatchDirector: Seth Gordon

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario

Released: 29th May 2017

Reviewer: Van Connor

The beach is back and she’s been given an action-comedy makeover as the theme of a million Student Union nights finds its way to the big screen. Baywatch sees megastar Dwayne Johnson step into the iconic red shorts as the new and improved Mitch Buchanan – head of Emerald Bay’s elite lifeguard unit. Ditching the unacceptable-by-today’s-standard sexism of the series though for something more wry and steeped in meta textual irony, Baywatch quickly leaps over the low-bar set by this year’s unfathomably awful CHiPs adaptation and sets itself up as something more tonally akin to – and in line with the quality of – the Jump Street series instead.

Of course, every global superstar over forty needs a hunky young sidekick, and Johnson finds his here in Zac Efron’s washed-up Olympic swimmer Matt Brody. Ever the showboat, Brody – whose career at Baywatch is solely driven by a court-mandated community service order – quickly butts heads with the veteran lifeguard, Brody seeing the job as an excuse to work on his tan, Mitch steadfast in his dedication to protecting the beach and its patrons at all cost. Mitch’s dedication though – and, indeed, that of his team – goes beyond merely saving drowning victims, with Baywatch giving it their all to tackle beachside pickpockets, rescue stranded animals, and – in their latest endeavour – take down what Mitch suspects is a drug-smuggling ring run by a corrupt local businesswoman.

“All of that sounds like the plot of a far-fetched but entertaining TV show”, Efron decries at one point in this rapid-fire sand-and-surf comedy. It’s one of a thousand knowing witticisms that see Baywatch emerge as easily the most successful TV-to-movie comedy outing since Ice Cube last sent his boys undercover. Johnson brings his ever-reliable A game to the table with a script that plays perfectly on his ingrained bravado, and with Efron as a solid comedic foil, proceedings flow with literally a laugh a minute. Sparing nothing in the action stakes either, director Seth Gordon knows how to stage an energetic – yet comedic and still coherent – action set piece, and – though it’s obligatory for these things to feature a cameo or two – said (predictable) cameos do land on reasonably fine form.

For all of its comedic triumphs and slickly polished momentum though, Baywatch does flounder once its two male leads are positioned into their third-act starting points. Briefly losing sight of the central plot and proving a tad too indulgent in allowing comedic asides to dominate the show, Freddy vs Jason writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift mercifully reign proceedings back in in time for a predictable – but still solidly entertaining final reel that’ll have you leaving the cinema in faux slo-mo and with a smile unashamedly beaming across your face. Far more fun than you’d expect, and infinitely sharper than it had any right to be, Baywatch is back. And it’s a sillier, sexier, and slicker ride than ever before.

Keeper of Lola M. Bear. Film critic for Movie Marker, TalkRADIO, and others. Producer of podcasts. Skechers enthusiast and blazer aficionado. All opinions my own.

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