‘Welcome Back Buchannon’
“Welcome to Baywatch. Our team is the elite of the elite, we are the heart and soul of this very beach…”
Sixteen years after the final episode of the original Baywatch series aired, Baywatch is back! This time though, it’s in film, and the beach itself is just as much a beach of fun, sand, sea, drugs, and murder as it ever was. Yes, murder…
Baywatch (2017) paints an idyllic image of both the beach and the Baywatch team themselves, however beneath the calm surface there is a much darker plot unfolding. It is this which carries the film, and in doing so, it manages to break away somewhat from the array of ‘beach bums’, toned chests, and slow motion running the film also has on offer. Once you wade your way through the elite of the Baywatch politics you find a simple but strong bond of friendship and trust amongst the lifeguards which is about to be turned on its head. The introduction of Matt Brody (Zac Effron), does this simply and quickly, with no regard for the other characters. He is a loose cannon who will not only butt heads with the team’s leader, Mitch Buchannon (Dwane Johnson), but nearly everyone on the team. So, in a film where ‘team’ is the word, Matt is an outlier who must conform fit in, which honestly, is easier said than done.
Challenge after challenge is thrown Matt’s way in order to prove he can be a team player but it seems that nothing will change the mind of this stubborn, swimming gold medallist. If possible, the more the team try and show Matt the way they do things it the better way to things the more he resists, and unsurprisingly so. As a main character, Matt is abrasive, and while on his own, honestly not overly likeable. In contrast with Mitch, who is the embodiment of charm and loyalty, Matt doesn’t come close. Yet it feels like you are positioned to sympathise more with Matt and his difficulty fitting in with the rest of the group. Once his personality smooths out it is much easier get on board with him as a character, and so follow him as he finally joins the rest of the team in trying to discover the truth of the dirty dealings for which the Bay is their base.
It is here that the film picks itself up, gets out of the calmer waters, and heads through the white wash to a very different world. We leave behind the Baywatch politics and delve into the much darker and grittier side of the Bay. Apart from the story though, and the revelation that all isn’t the perfect place they thought it was, there isn’t too much which changes. It is in this way, beyond their growth in the first half of the film the characters, in both themselves and their interactions, are much the same, and insight little interest beyond the humour they add. So though there is advancement in the story, which does well to keep the interest of the audience, there is little movement in the one way for the audience to really place themselves in the story.
It is here that the comedy of the film really comes into play. Against the backdrop of drug trafficking, murder, and a rather obvious villain, the humour really comes into its own despite the ‘cringe worthy’ way in which it is executed. It is here where, unlike in the beginning the humorous lines were punctuated with obvious places to laugh, the comedy is left to hold itself up and it really falls short of its goal. Though it in no way completely fails, it is easy to see the very forced way in which the humour was presented to the audience.
Beyond all its shortcomings, Baywatch (2017) managed to bring back a franchise with a well-worn history. They do this not only through adopting the tropes of the original series – slow motion running and all – but also through playing with them and trying to make them their own. There is no easy or correct way to bring back something so well-known but this has been done not only in an attempt to bring it back but also to give it new life, which is something it definitely achieved.