We’ve been here before—pop-culture footnote recast as big-budget comedy with current big-time stars, featuring throwbacks to the original, not-great TV series, everyone having fun. That was 2012, when 21 Jump Street became one of the year’s best comedies, before we’d all burned our senses out on nostalgia.
That movie also benefited from being helmed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the subversive, good-hearted geniuses behind Clone High. Baywatch has no such luck—director Seth Gordon also made Identity Thief and Horrible Bosses, a couple of OK comedies with inspired moments, plus there are, ominously, six writing credits here. (You don’t hire extra writers to make a great thing better.) There’s a drug ring operating in the Bay, and only its dedicated team of lifeguards can crack it, obviously—it’s the kind of story where you can immediately discern who’s in on it on the scam, as if you even care—like the source material, the point here is not narrative nuance.
Because there’s also Dwayne Johnson, America’s most affable action star, and Zac Efron, the pretty face with golden comedic timing, and as a mismatched team they work well together, riffing on each other’s phsyical appearance in a way that never feels mean-spirited (Johnson’s go-tos are boy-band names, including High School Musical, the Disney property that made Efron famous). And for a boob- and butt-heavy comedy it’s not very salacious or shitty to women—Justin Lin or McG would’ve made it much worse—in fact, there are two penis gags that go on way too long.
It would’ve been nice to replicate the experience of 21 Jump Street—an elevation—but as it stands (swims), Baywatch is exactly what you expect. At least it’s fun.