The movie version of “Baywatch” is similar to the ubiquitous ’90s TV show it’s based on, in that both are not very funny. The problem, of course, is that the TV show wasn’t supposed to be. The movie, carelessly directed by Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses,” “Identity Thief”), purports to be an outrageous, self-aware, “21 Jump Street”-style reboot, yet it falls flat so consistently that you start to wonder if everyone got the memo about this being a comedy.
Dwayne Johnson stars as Mitch Buchannon (the David Hasselhoff role), heroic leader of the lifeguards who patrol a fictional Florida bay (not California anymore). His team, which includes dumb blonde CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) and no-nonsense Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), is joined by Matt Brody (Zac Efron), a washed-up bad-boy Olympic swimmer who’s in need of positive P.R. but hates teamwork. Two other trainees, capable Summer (Alexandra Daddario) and doughy klutz Ronnie (Jon Bass), are also on hand, the latter as overt comic relief.
The plot concerns a villainous businesswoman named Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) who’s flooding the beach with drugs and blackmailing city councilors as part of her plan to seize valuable beachfront property. What’s curious about Victoria Leeds is that her scenes rarely even try to be funny but are written and performed like straightforward plot-advancing scenes in a straightforward action film. The action sequences are un-comic, too, but with cheap-looking CGI that prevents us from taking them seriously as action sequences.
The oddness of this can hardly be overstated. Here we have a high-flying farce with no pretense of reality, no reason to exist other than to be funny … and probably 40 percent of it is played straight. The screenplay is credited to horror writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (“Freddy vs. Jason,” the “Friday the 13th” remake), revising drafts by four more writers who get “story by” credit. All those hands the script passed through and nobody thought to punch up the dry scenes?
So where is the humor? To the extent that it is anywhere, it is on the beach. Mitch and Brody butt heads over Brody’s hot-shot attitude and over Mitch’s insistence that the lifeguards investigate crimes instead of calling the police. (That angle seems to be a joke about how the TV show’s lifeguards often overstepped their bounds, but the movie never figures out how to sell it.) Ronnie falls in love with CJ and regularly embarrasses himself in front of her, usually in a way that involves his penis.
And … that’s about it. Johnson and Efron are well-cast and have separately proven themselves capable of thriving in a raunch-com environment, but here they are left to flounder with subpar material. Jon Bass, a relative newcomer, deserves credit for getting as much as he can out of Ronnie’s character, but it isn’t a lot. None of the women are given anything funny to do. The supporting roles are filled by comic actors like Rob Huebel and Hannibal Buress, seemingly in the hopes that they would ad-lib something humorous. The outtakes over the closing credits indicate that they did not — and you know you’re sunk when even the outtakes of a comedy aren’t funny.
D (1 hr., 56 min.; )