In this humorous and irreverent reboot of the iconic television show, Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his team of Baywatch lifeguards protect their California beach with unprecedented physical fitness, boundless courage, and slow-motion sex appeal. When a cocky new recruit named Matt Brody (Zac Efron) shows up at Baywatch tryouts and flaunts his pair of Olympic gold medals in swimming, the two alpha males immediately butt heads. Brody continues to make things harder for himself by constantly disobeying orders and forcing veteran lifeguards CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) to save his life on more than one occasion, which causes fellow recruits Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) to feel offended by the Olympic superstar's lack of respect for the job. In time, Brody realizes he'll have to take the initiative and seek redemption for his poor behavior.
Amidst the drama over the training of this year's unconventional recruits, the team uncover foul play regarding the development of a resort owned by the powerful and gorgeous Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra). This crime queenpin plans to seize control of the whole bay via a scheme that includes drug trafficking and even murder, and she surely won't tolerate any resistance from a bunch of jacked-up lifeguards who are overstepping their jurisdiction. Against all odds, the Baywatch crew set out to expose Leeds' crimes and bring peace to the beach.
Audiences will be entertained by the hilarious dialogue and plethora of sexual tension on display, but the story also uses the job of being a lifeguard as a way to explore themes of vigilante justice and the pursuit of self-respect. Buchannon's obvious bigheadedness and blatant disregard for boundaries stem from the contrast between his official responsibilities and his belief that he's capable of more. He feels that his team doesn't get the credit they deserve from the local authorities, and is hell-bent on proving that they are more than just glorified athletes with a leathery sheen and a misplaced sense of duty.
The film's greatest strength lies in the script's ability to honor its source material while lightheartedly poking fun at the absurd lengths these lifeguards will go to in the name of justice. Although the team resort to questionable methods that, in reality, would probably land all of them in jail, viewers can understand their desire for a little respect. Yet at the same time, the constant barrage of biting one-liners helps mask any sense of self-seriousness, and prevents these overarching ideas from feeling heavy-handed.
Baywatch is clearly meant to provide a fun evening of laughter, suspense, and the occasional sexual fantasy, and it succeeds in that regard through an acute understanding of the crime-comedy genre, numerous homages to the original (it contains more than one cameo from the show), and a willingness to play up the inherent absurdity of its plot. This movie proves that there is more to being a lifeguard than having a perfect body and an inflated attitude, and that we could all use a little slow motion from time to time.