I like to read up on daily/upcoming movies years before they’re released in theaters, so I hear about who gets cast in what and what properties get adapted for the big screen. Bringing back old favorites is a formula everyone seems to be copying off notes from, even cartoon shows like “Animaniacs” are making a comeback. “Baywatch” was a silly-yet-serious crime show about lifeguards on beaches solving crimes and looking real good in red swimsuits and walking very slowly towards the camera. A movie for this series has been developed for years and years with little progress. After “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson get involved, the movie found its edge and star and decided to follow in the successful footsteps of its silver screen sitcom sibling, “21 Jump Street,” and by that I mean be raunchy and funny at the same time.
Mitch Buchannon (The Rock) is the head lifeguard in Baywatch, and he’s leading his team of new recruits into investigating a drug smuggling ring inside his waters; run by a high society kingpin. Unfortunately, he’s saddled with a reckless hotshot, Mitch Brody (Zac Efron) and is forced to whip him into shape so he can help his newly found teammates work together and prove that these lifeguards do more than swim and work on their tans when a crime is going down. “Baywatch” was an absurdly silly show. It was a joke, an acknowledged and recognized joke; made mostly to draw attention to babes with big boobs in bathing suits…and David Hasselhoff. Obviously, ideas from old shows don’t usually click with new audiences of today, so keeping that tongue planted firmly in cheek can definitely help sell your imported cheese.
However, when someone takes a silly show too seriously and doesn’t know how to properly strike that silly chord on everyone’s level throughout the film, you end up with a lot of belly flops that probably sounded a lot funnier in the writer’s heads when they wrote up the first draft of this film’s script. “Baywatch” feels like that guy you know in school who uses jokes that were funny back when that brand of humor was hot, but it falls flat now and comes off as someone who has past what little prime they had and is already floating back to the ocean of obscurity. This is a movie that decided to mimic what “21 Jump Street” did, only not even half as funny and it’s about several years too late to even matter by this point anyway.
The entire cast is here to do nothing but look hot and ask you to laugh when one guy’s penis gets stuck in a beach chair and they stay on that joke for like 6-8 minutes. If the story had gone full parody and not wasted so much time trying to take this boring, cliché smuggling drug storyline seriously, this could have been a tidal wave of raunchy humor and it COULD have worked. It doesn’t help that aside from Dwayne Johnson, no one really feels like they’re trying very hard or know how to deliver a proper joke unless it involves the F word or boobs and genital-related humor. Perfect example: Zac Efron. He’s freaking hilarious when he wants to be, his work in “Neighbors 2” and “Mike and Dave need wedding dates” proves he’s got some well-sculpted comedy chops.
But here, Efron looks like he’s barely even trying. He’s got a mere handful of minor comedic moments that he kind of pulls off, but they all feel subdued and lacking the gut-busting quality of humor I’ve seen him dish out before. Jon Bass and Kelly Rohrbach try (and fail) to pull off the old “awkward guy gets the hot girl” trope. Even if the coupling succeeds, they still fail to really deliver a decent gag or even a clever one-liner without it being penis related. The only one who is clearly trying and is definitely having a good time during this whole tanking TV show trope is the Rock. Johnson is having a blast and it shows in every scene and with every line. He’s having a good time and it’s that energetic charisma that helps sell the comedy and his character to the audiences. His enthusiasm is infectious, even when the humor is not. I always applaud someone who tries their hardest despite working with a C- minus script (The Rock) and shake my head when I know someone CAN be funny or talented but decides not to because they don’t feel it’s worth it (Efron).
Overall, unless you’re a die-hard “Baywatch” fan or you haven’t seen the infinite, comedic genius of “21 Jump Street” yet (In which case I ORDER you to stop reading this review and go watch it immediately!), you’re not going to get much out of this one. The Rock is the only one trying or having a good time with the uneven balance of plot focusing and low brow humor delivery. It’s dirty bomb that went off way too late for anyone to really care. The cast is phoning it in, the jokes are sink or swim and even when they do score a good laugh, it’s never quite as dirty or as funny as the movie thinks it is, or as you hoped it would be. Sorry, Dwayne Johnson, I know you had a blast with this and really want a sequel, but I think I’ll fast walk (not slow walk) past the theater on that day and enjoy something a little less disappointing.
I give “Baywatch” 1 ½ stars out of 4.