In 2006, Zac Efron became a Thing. He sang, danced, and shot hoops on The Disney Channel as Troy Bolton, the basketball boy wonder who had a secret desire to star in musical plays. As dichotomous as his breakout role seemed to viewers (who, yes, were mostly middle schoolers), Troy was not a complex guy. He was popular as both a jock and a singer, he had perfectly floppy hair, and he had a megawatt smile that attracted the attention of both the Rich Queen Bee and the Cool New Girl of the school. From there, Efron remained extremely palatable. He became continuously cast as the attractive kid with a good conscience in film after film, after film. He was, for years, "that kid from High School Musical."
Then something changed: In 2014, the actor tapped into something deeper than the Nicholas Sparksian roles, or the various HSM spin-offs. Efron or at least casting directors, realized that he was funny. Like, laugh out loud, slapstick funny — he was as quirky and weird as he was fit and traditionally attractive. His secret weapon of being able to deliver an absurd joke in a way that felt genuine became his new calling card. The actor was the "hot but dumb guy," like a Golden Retriever come to life, good hair and all.
In Baywatch, he is in true Zac Funny-But-Hot Efron form. But it got me wondering: Is it fair to the talented actor to typecast him as a certain role? Is Efron destined to be the funny, hot guy for the rest of his days?
The answer to this question is absolutely 100 percent yes, and I'll explain why that's a good thing. Efron shines as the dumb, messy jock. It's hard to bring a largely caricatured role to life in a dynamic way, and he's done it wonderfully every single time. (Okay, so all the movies aren't my cup of tea, but I don't really think anyone other than Chris Pratt or Jon Hamm is as good at being delightfully clueless.) Why not bring his specific charm all the way to the bank?
Just to state the obvious: In Baywatch, Efron is shirtless most of the time, flaunting his chiseled chest in an innumerable amount of scenes. (We don't condone objectifying men at Refinery29, but this is VITAL to the storyline.) He also has ripples and definition in places on his back and arms that I didn't really know could be rippled and defined. Even next to the extremely fit Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Efron holds his own. I'm even tempted to say that the muscular madness is even more impressive than the mind-boggling ab situation on Alexander Skarsgard in Tarzan. You see, abs are incredibly important in the 2017 remake of the spoof-able 90s TV series of the same name. In this movie, abs represent strength, which represents power, which represents status, which is all Efron's character, Matt Brody (a former Olympian that is part-Lochte, part-Bieber), desires as a Baywatch lifeguard. But, underneath all that brawn is a teeny tiny brain (much like his characters in Neighbors, Neighbors 2, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates). And if women are going to be subjected to the male gaze for the entire duration of a film, then can we do the same for the men who are oiled up and shirtless for 97% of it, too? The answer is yes, and we are encouraged to. In this Baywatch 2.0, the slow-mos are slower, the muscles are bigger, and then laughs (honestly, truly) better than I anticipated. And it's all thanks to the hunky and hilarious Efron who has finally found his niche in Hollywood: The funny, lovable idiot who redeems himself in the end — but stays steadily attractive along the way. (Come on that isn't a spoiler, you saw it coming.)
I'll admit that when I first went to see the summer flick, I deemed it stupid, gratuitous, and overly-tanned brain candy, and while I still did a bit of an eye-roll at the gratuitous shots of breasts, butts, and biceps that constantly filled the entire screen, the movie works harder than I expected. Just like Efron.