The television series Baywatch (1989-2000) was a cultural phenomenon back in the early nineties. Baywatch was a sexy, campy “beach cops” take on being a lifeguard that peddled in hot bodies and cheap thrills like an Andy Sidaris movie. Knight Rider traded K.I.T. for a board and beach bunny action. It was a show with a limited cultural relevancy and an even more limited view of serialized storytelling. The fanbase for the Baywatch show remained committed to the program regardless, which led directly to its big screen adaptation in 2017.
The movie Baywatch, directed by Seth Gordon, ratcheted up the masculine gaze and innuendos to an “R” rating while keeping the general plot and morality of the film firmly planted in the world of “PG-13” family films. The real auteur behind Baywatch is its star Dwayne Johnson whose wholesome image is inherently at odds with the sleaze-ball mentality of the source material. Johnson’s Baywatch has been gentrified by the “good taste” of the Disney favorite.
In fact, most of the references to the original show in Baywatch are delivered with an embaressed eye roll. The show was a product of its time and the politics of that moment must be avoided or chastised. If the film Baywatch had embraced the high camp of the show, the plastic veneer of the larger than life posturing would have enabled the filmmakers to embrace the show without contempt while simultaneously satirizing its more unpleasant elements. But neither Gordon nor Johnson seems to know how to go about making the material campy, let alone using camp as a deconstructionist mechanism.
The resulting film Baywatch has the dramatic sophistication and humor of an MTV original movie from 2002 with only the gorgeous bodies of Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, and Zac Efron to offer any escapism. Even then, Baywatch doesn’t even present the fetishized bodies of these dreamboats in any visually compelling way. Baywatch is a lackluster affair all around that completely missed the point of the original’s over sexed campy delirium.