I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
These are the shoals upon which critics are broken. Those gently susurrating waves? The bastard power of water to wear everything down. Those lovely soft grains of sand on the beach? Every one of them a thoughtful film lover who has dedicated her- or himself to considering cinema, now ground down into a tiny tiny pebble.
Baywatch is a beach-slap fuck-you to anyone with a brain. Your gonads may be engaged if you are a heterosexual man (or a homosexual woman, though that will be accidental) who has not graduated from a tween sexuality in which disembodied boobs and (female) asses are the hottest thing you can imagine, and hope to one day be able to touch with your very own hands. But your brain can go take a flying leap, because it will not be required here… and Baywatch thinks that’s a plus.
I feel like I’ve been saying this — I’ve certainly been thinking it — a lot lately, but this movie embodies everything that is wrong with Hollywood today. Baywatch would not exist if Hollywood studios did not believe that picking up something from the past — no matter how good or bad it was, no matter how fondly or poorly it is remembered — makes for a surefire hit, no matter how many times this has been disproven. Because Name Recognition, as if moviegoers respond with pavlovian drooling to any and all titles merely because we have been exposed to them before. (Baywatch is based, of course, on the crapiffic 1990s TV show that was among the first to take advantage of proliferating cable channels that had countless hours of airtime to fill, and that weren’t terribly discriminating about how they filled those hours.)
But there’s more that’s awful, and prototypical Hollywood circa 2017. Baywatch is proudly dumb. It is proudly sexist. It is proudly pointless. It required the work of six overpaid screenwriters — whatever they were paid, it was too much; roll call of shame: Jay Scherick and David Ronn (who both wrote The Smurfs and The Smurfs 2), Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (who both contributed to Mr. Peabody & Sherman and Hell Baby), and Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (who both wrote Freddy Vs. Jason) — to come up with “mangina” as an insult, awkward “jokes” about inconvenient boners, and gay panic. (This is a movie rated as suitable only for adults, but even the “humor” exists on a tween level, at its most sophisticated.) It employs the “talents” of director Seth Gordon, who once made a charming little documentary about videogames called The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and then instantly sold out to the studios to make such junk as Four Christmases and Identity Thief. Here, Gordon seems intent on proving how very very heterosexual he is with his auteurist dedication to slowly panning up women’s bodies — the less dressed, the better — as often as possible, and to letting the camera hover around the breasts of Alexandra Daddario (San Andreas, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters), Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesh Hadera (Chi-Raq) as often as possible, while never ever similarly fetishizing the impressive physical specimens that are Dwayne Johnson (The Fate of the Furious, Moana) and a newly pumped up Zac Efron (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising). As ever in Hollywood, in Baywatch, women bodies are decorative, appreciated only for how they look, while men’s bodies are either purely functional or absolutely hilarious, ie the very slightly chubby new Baywatch recruit played by Jon Bass (Jane Wants a Boyfriend), whose nudity is funny, see, because he’s soft, not sculpted.
Men as sexy, as eye candy? Men made love to by the camera? That would be nice. I would imagine that many women (and more than a few men) would really appreciate some lingering cinematic ogling on Johnson’s pecs and Efron’s baby-blues dear god. Ladies (and those few gentlemen), you will have to grab whatever leering you can manage on the fly, because this movie will not indulge you.
All that exists here as supposed entertainment are women’s bodies to male-gaze at and men’s bodies to not-gaze at because that would be totally gay. There is literally nothing else of note here even in a movie about county lifeguards — in California like the show? somewhere else? the movie was shot in Florida and is set in a fictional town, so who knows — who think they are cops or private detectives or something. You’d think there’d be the potential for humor in that. But unlike the 21 Jump Street movies, which were razor-sharp smart about the cheesy nostalgia of their source material and tongue-in-cheek cynical about the reasons it got rebooted as movies, Baywatch has no idea how to toe that line. Something something about drugs washing up on the beach and a lady real estate developer* who is buying everyone out, or whatevs. (*Indian actor Priyanka Chopra… portrays a South American villain… named Victoria Leeds. Because brown people are interchangeable but should always have Anglo names, I guess. But at least there’s a bit of diversity here? *lolsob*)
No, wait, there is something else here: the utterly tiresome male fantasy about how dorky boys deserve hot girls, and get them, and how asshole jerks deserve perfect gorgeous women, and get them. Baywatch is, if nothing else — and it is nothing else — the absolute epitome of boy-centered Hollywood: no matter what sort of loser dude you are, there will always be an awesome woman who is irresistibly drawn to you.
Yeah, keep telling yourself that, Hollywood nerd boys.