21 Jump Street is one of those movies where Hollywood learns all the wrong lessons. In 2012, nobody thought that an R-rated adaptation of a schlocky '80s TV show would be a hit, but Phil Lord and Christopher Miller surprised us all with a funny, subversive, extremely self-aware comedy that blended buddy cop action and raunchy humor to great effect. So of course, instead of opting to make smart comedies from talented filmmakers, the studios decided that what we really needed were more R-rated versions of classic TV shows. So five years after the success of Jump Street, we have Baywatch, a filthy summer comedy that takes the campy show and throws in plenty of star power and dick jokes. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron in a splashy R-rated parody may seem like a slam dunk on paper, but somehow, Baywatch is a fiasco of massive proportions. A tedious, poorly written, and utterly unfunny "comedy," this edgy nonsense is one mediocre joke stretched out to an exhausting 119 minute runtime. It's trying so hard to please the audience, but it consistently fails to take off. This may seem like an exaggeration, but there's no question in my mind that Baywatch is one of the worst studio comedies in recent memory.
Baywatch follows the adventures of Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), the leader of a legendary crew of lifeguards who not only save people from drowning, they also investigate crimes and stop trafficking (this is the main joke of the film). Mitch's team is rounded out by Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), but at the start of the film, they're looking for three new lifeguards to complete the crew. Looking to make the team are Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass) and Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), as well as Matt Brody (Zac Efron), Olympic swimmer and certified bad boy. Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel) believes that Brody is the boost that Baywatch needs to get their popularity back, but Mitch isn't so sure- he knows that Brody is selfish and arrogant, not the team player that they need.
All three prospective lifeguards are welcomed to the Baywatch family, and predictably, they all struggle to get along. Ronnie has a massive crush on CJ, Brody thinks that he can woo Summer, and Mitch still maintains his belief that Brody is the wrong man for the job. But they'll have to put all of their differences aside when it becomes abundantly clear that Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the wealthy owner of a large amount of property on the beach, is dealing drugs and bribing politicians. Murder, scandal, betrayal- this must be a job for......lifeguards? Despite resistance from the police, Mitch and Brody will use their intelligence and their charm to save the beach that they love so dearly, and maybe make a few friends in the process.
It's hard to find a place to start with Baywatch. It's a movie that does nearly nothing right, and it's so horrendously made that my final grade feels generous. Baywatch is poorly written, dumb, juvenile, and way too long, but most importantly, it isn't funny. Some of the film's flaws could be forgiven if it made me laugh, but I sat stone-faced for nearly the entire runtime. Essentially, director Seth Gordon and the producers decided that it'd be a good idea to take the plot of 21 Jump Street- and I literally mean the exact plot- but fail to inject any effective humor. Each joke (like The Rock calling Efron a variety of boy band names) is quickly run into the ground, and after a while, it's clear that there's nowhere to go. Baywatch digs itself into a hole in the early goings, and the plot feels like such sub-standard action/comedy fare that it never manages to pull the audience back into the world of the film.
Chalk most of this up to the screenplay, which comes courtesy of four credited story authors (Jay Sherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon, and Robert Ben Garant) and two actual screenwriters (Damian Shannon and Mark Swift). The fact that it took a whopping six people to write such lazy garbage feels like Hollywood in a nutshell, and this whole thing is so bad that it's almost amusing to watch the writers flail around to find interesting material. There are no twists or turns, no interesting characters or clever jokes. This is another studio comedy that thinks the word "f*ck" and the human body are both inherently funny concepts, and that a lengthy scene of Zac Efron examining a dead man's "taint" is comedic gold. Baywatch scrapes the bottom of the barrel and finds nothing, but they just keep scraping anyways. It's so uninspired and cringe-worthy, and it reaches a point where it feels like nobody is even trying anymore.
It feels unfair to continually compare this film to 21 Jump Street, but the producers of this film aped the formula of that hit to such a blatant extent that it warrants repeated mention. Jump Street was funny because of how self-aware it was (something that Baywatch tries and fails to imitate), but it also had characters that you cared about and understood. Channing Tatum's Jenko was a bully who peaked in high school and Jonah Hill's Schmidt was a loser who managed to find something he was really good at. Watching their relationship grow and develop over those two films was part of the joy of the Jump Street series, and seeing Lord and Miller continually put them in situations that tested their friendship and their character was delightful. Baywatch doesn't get that- the writers don't get that, Seth Gordon doesn't get that, and The Rock and Efron certainly don't understand it either.
Johnson's Mitch is technically the lead of the movie, but his character is so incredibly non-existent that it's hard to feel much for him. Mitch is a bit of an arrogant ass, which makes him fairly unlikable at times. Not that Efron's Brody is much better- he's basically Ryan Lochte, except smart enough to realize that lifeguards shouldn't be solving crimes. He's the only character with an actual "arc," although it's so predictably stupid that you can't help but roll your eyes. But if you think there's comedic relief to be found in the supporting cast- guess again! Every female character is horribly wasted, devoid of any real humanity or traits that would qualify them as being interesting. Daddario, Rohrbach, and Hadera are there to stand around and be sex symbols, fueling more jokes about human anatomy and general male stupidity. Jon Bass is basically discount Josh Gad, except not even close to being funny, while even the cameos from original Baywatch stars David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson fail to ignite much interest. And good lord, the villain. Priyanka Chopra is one of the biggest stars on the planet, but she's working with such a one-note character here. You know that Victoria is evil from the moment she steps on screen, and it's exhausting to watch the movie strain to make her self-aware of her dastardly deeds.
And just from a production standpoint, Baywatch feels like a poorly made raunchy TV sitcom that gets canceled after one episode. The directing is horrible (it's pretty hard to screw up directing a comedy, but Gordon finds a way here), jumping frantically from scene to scene and staging everything in the most obvious way possible. The soundtrack feels like someone made a Spotify playlist of rap music and then just threw it in there, not even really bothering to see if any of the music fit the mood of the scene. And the special effects are egregiously bad to the point that it's dumbfounding. Baywatch is one of the laziest movies I've ever seen, and for something that cost well over $50 million, it feels like nobody involved cared how that money was spent. It's almost like they made this movie, edited it in one night, and threw it into theaters hoping that people would see it based on star power alone. Thankfully, it's bombing at the box office- maybe we'll even be able to avoid Baywatch 2.
On paper, Baywatch seemed like the comedy event of the summer. In practice, it's exactly what we all feared 21 Jump Street would be the first time around. It's comically inept and dramatically inert, riddled with jokes that aren't funny and a plot that is as predictably boring as anything I've seen in a mainstream comedy in a long time. Baywatch fails to do anything right, and it's so bad that the experience isn't even excruciating, it's mind-numbing. This goofy R-rated comedy finds a way to be one of the most tedious films I've seen in a theater in a very long time, so painfully dull and brutally unfunny that I was fighting off sleep by the half hour mark. I have nothing else to say about this fiasco. I'm gonna pretend that it never happened and pray that its charismatic stars find something better to do in the future. Avoid at all costs.
THE FINAL GRADE: D- (2.8/10)