It was only a matter of time, given Hollywood’s baffling insistence on nonstop reboots and remakes, before Baywatch made its way to the silver screen as a self-aware action-comedy.
The glaring stupidity of an amplified Baywatch concept would generally make for an easy skip, but Paramount’s A-list talent wrangling, in tandem with 2012’s 21 Jump Street success, has brought out the optimist in many a moviegoer.
It shouldn’t. Baywatch shoots for an elevated level of meta comedy, but finds itself weighed down by transplanted cop tropes and subpar humor.
The 2017 take stars American sweetheart/future POTUS Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Mitch Buchannon, the character David Hasselhoff made weirdly iconic. He’s king of the beach, basically a superhero, and a mentor to many — but the arrival of a Ryan Lochte type by the name of Matt Brody (Zac Efron) tests his patience. Dead bodies and dangerous drugs start washing ashore, and for some reason Mitch and company take it upon themselves to find the criminal mastermind behind these nefarious deeds and put an end to him (or her!) by way of their nonexistent beach jurisdiction.
The movie had promise, at least in its pedigree: The story credits go to, among others, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant of Reno 911 and The State fame. Where it fell apart is anybody’s guess. Either the screenwriters who took over couldn’t cut it or the novelty wasn’t sustainable.
Johnson, Efron, and pretty much the whole cast do a serviceable job, but the script just isn’t funny enough to make Baywatch stand out. A lot of “fucks” and full-frontal male nudity do not a great comedy make. What’s more, the movie never quite figures out where to position itself: It stops short of going full-bore campy and then it drags into two-hour territory via an unconvincing police procedural plot line that takes itself a bit too seriously.
One minute Efron is cracking wise about how flawed Baywatch’s own premise is and the next, he’s earnestly trying to thwart a drug queenpin, while overcoming his own alcoholism and deep feelings of isolation. Of course, he has the help of his lifeguard buddies who also happen to be forensic experts and adept hackers.
Obviously, Baywatch could never fully commit to seriousness given the sheer goofiness of its concept, but by even dipping a toe in now and again, the movie undermines its own joke. This is one of the rare pictures where less plot and more stupidity might have actually helped. 21 Jump Street may be the bar as Hollywood churns out these ’80s/’90s remakes in the next few years — and Baywatch doesn’t even come close.
Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron
Theater: Area theaters, opens Thursday