Director: Seth Gordon
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron
2 (out of 5) Globes
They blew it. The “Baywatch” movie was supposed to be another “21 Jump Street” movie — a gleeful mockery of a show that truly earns the dreaded and overused word “dated.” You take the Clinton-era male gaze-a-thon, which mysteriously ran for 11 seasons, and you turn it on its head. You ogle the men more than the red one-piece-suited ladies. You make fun of the ridiculous storylines. You stack it with ad-libbing pros like Hannibal Buress and Rob Huebel, in addition to stars The Rock and Zac Efron — two beefcakes with a long track record of making fun of themselves. It’s all so easy.
“Baywatch” does all this, but it still feels off — like it’s pounding on a heavyweight champ with kid gloves. There are jokes about the original’s copious running slo-mo shots and the far-fetched plots, in which the guardians of a sunny beach thwart rampaging manta rays and creative grifters and drug rings. But most of the time “Baywatch” plays too much like an episode of “Baywatch,” as though the filmmakers had filmed a straightfaced script written in 1995 by mistake. They liberally pepper on the yuks, but they play like damage control — as though the movie were constantly apologizing for not being funnier.
In fact, it really is about our heroes busting a drug ring. (And there are grifters, too.) Dwayne Johnson steps in for David Hasselhof as “Lieutenant” Mitch, who’s none-too-pleased that the top brass has forced upon his team of rock star lifeguards one Matt Brody (Efron), a fallen two-time Olympian-turned-alkie loser. Matt must learn to stop putting himself over the team, all while everyone thwarts a murderous real estate queen (Priyanka Chopra). Wait, are we supposed to care about Matt learning a lesson? Or about a plot that even a progressive, “The Future is Female” shirt-wearing feminist bro would find cuts down on the bikini time? Inexplicably, sort of! The movie’s not smart enough to make the dumbness part of the joke.
Stumbling madly between mysteriously non-satircal syndicated-TV-seriousness to actual satire, “Baywatch” mixes tones like a drunk behind the bar. (There’s also a part where one of the world’s funniest comedians is fed to sharks, and it’s not played as a joke.) The actors do bring the pain, when they can. As ever, The Rock can be effortlessly funny, as is Efron, while Alexandra Daddario — as Matt’s token reluctant love interest — is sharp enough with a one-liner and a goofy reaction shot that you realize she’s being under-utilized. Sometimes the humor seems like it came from the ’90s, too; yes, the classic gay panic joke is still alive and well in 2017, apparently. There is one very amusing, mildly surreal gag, and it involves David Hasselhof himself, which should tell you everything. No, this should tell you everything: It’s a comedy that ends with bloopers.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge