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All words: Alan Pyke

Do you want to know what the thing is about making a Baywatch movie in the year of our memelords two-thousand seventeen? Here is the thing about it: It’s extremely, extremely dumb… but secretly in the way a lot of us probably need right now?

We’re talking the full gamut of dumb-movie bits here: medical grossouts, hot guy in drag for 30 seconds because lol I guess, an elaborate set piece revolving around groin pain, low-brow aspirations, and high-ass heels. For a cynic, it’s like a greatest hits compilation of juvenile comedy tropes.

But it also, mostly, works. It works. This is thanks to the same strong comic timing that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has shown ever since he first carved out space in America’s television heart via basic cable pro wrestling schtick. The ensemble around Johnson acquits itself well here, too. Johnson and Zac Efron provide both a semblance of beefcake parity for those who enjoy the male body in its most improbably taut form, and a surprisingly charming on-screen chemistry.

This motley band of buff-n-tumbles tap dances merrily through a plot built from scraps of movie cliches. There’s a disapproving cop – against whose indignant authority our protagonistic hotties must revolt – in order to Do The Right Thing. The right thing meaning, here, the relentless pursuit of the source of a new designer drug that keeps washing up on the shore’s of the bay, along with dead bodies. There’s a party to infiltrate, some chases to chase. Someone gets fired for being a loose canon who’s ignored one too many warnings, setting up one of the funniest bits in the whole flick. It involves a fish tank, a wardrobe change, and The Rock proving that he can make even a Sprint store polo shirt look sexy.

The plot, of course, isn’t the point. Nor are the boobs and butts and Adonis lines, really. Strange as it might sound, Baywatch smacks of a certain higher – if that’s the right adjective – ambition.

Although it would have been finished well before Donald Trump’s shock election win, Baywatch nonetheless feels calibrated to act as a tonic for the division and vitriol of the modern culture wars. It teases at macho lunkhead characters, but with affection. It torments the out-of-shape dorky character, but without cruelty. And it invites everyone to come together around a shared set of values: that looking at hot people do jokes is good and fun.

Whatever odd unity drive might have animated this particular iteration of a Baywatch reboot in 2017, the finished product still does bear marks of the changes to American mass culture in the Twitter age. The nerd gets the girl – almost without trying – because of course the buxom lifeguard has a thing for nerds, it’s 2017. The jock is a sad, proud failure who ultimately sets his pride aside to make himself useful. He gets saved, again, by the guy who’s both stronger and more sensitive than him.  The women are content to playfully call out colleagues for ogling them, without doing anything so threatening as objecting to the attention. When Efron ends up in a dress, the dialog tries to sand down any undercurrent of transphobic mockery (your mileage may vary here).

Probably it’s all harmless. Certainly it’s mostly fun. And definitely anyone who listens to Alex Jones will walk out irate about creeping leftism, but still kinda horny.

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