2012’s 21 Jump Street brought a beloved TV drama to the big screen with a major tonal shift. It may have been based on a TV drama, but the movie stood (and still stands) as one of the best comedies in recent memory. Baywatch seemed like it might follow in those footsteps, and the casting of the genre-crossing Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, whose comedy skills became clear in 2014’s Neighbors, made success look likely. Looks can be deceiving, though.
Baywatch is never offensively bad, and there was never a point during its running time that made me want to leave the theater. But it’s also never good.
Baywatch follows Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Johnson) and his team of lifeguards, Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), and new recruits Summer (Alexandra Daddario), Ronnie (Jon Bass), and disgraced Olympian Matt Brody (Efron), as they find themselves entrenched in a drug/real estate conspiracy led by club owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra).
Drugs find their way onto the beach. Important people end up missing or dead. Bad things keep happening, and Buchannon and company aren’t going to stand for it. They investigate the (boring, predictable) action plot despite being told not to from every angle because it’s their beach and they’re just not going to stand for it. It doesn’t take long for Baywatch to toss its comedy aside in favor of boat fires and shootouts with terrible aim, and the movie tends to bounce back and forth between action and comedy rather than blending them together. The sequences that do feature both, like a lackluster fight involving a baby picture, don’t land either aspect particularly well.
And that’s Baywatch. It does a lot of things, but it doesn’t do a very good job at any of them. There’s comedy, but there’s not much that warrants more than a light chuckle. There’s action, but it’s often light and rarely thrilling. The aforementioned boat fire is probably the most exciting of Baywatch’s action set pieces, but that’s only by process of elimination, not because of its content.
There are some truly funny moments scattered throughout Baywatch, including an early scene featuring Ronnie and a beach chair that’s easily the standout moment of the movie. There were other parts that had me laughing quite a bit too, but I can’t remember the details of any of them—an issue that plagues the movie as a whole.
Baywatch is fun in the moment, but it’s never a lot of fun. It’s simultaneously predictable and forgettable, and there’s little reason to see it—even for fans of Johnson, Efron, or anyone else in the cast. There will probably be worse ways to spend a couple hours this summer, and that’s the best endorsement I can give this misfire of an adaptation.