There’s a right way to do this sort of thing. Take “21 Jump Street,” Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s self-aware redo of the TV series. That film found a happy medium between tribute and ridicule, offering clever commentary on its absurd source material.
“Baywatch,” a would-be spoof directed by Seth Gordon, unearths a different hunk of old cheese — the seminal lifeguard action series — and does almost everything wrong.
Where “21 Jump Street” had satire, “Baywatch” has genital humor. Where “21 Jump Street” had a sneaky-sweet story, “Baywatch” has genital humor. Where “21 Jump Street” had wit and heart, “Baywatch” has Zac Efron poking around the scrotum of a corpse.
Almost every dumb, R-rated comedy these days specializes in the male reproductive organs. But “Baywatch” is basically a certified urologist. To be fair, if this is your brand of humor, then this movie will be your cinematic highlight of 2017. Please enjoy yourself; I don’t judge you.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, this sophomoric fixation leaves little room for much else — even with the movie’s interminable two-hour running time.
“Baywatch,” like the TV series, is just a bunch of achingly beautiful people playing lifeguards who get into a series of cockamamie escapades. The leader, Mitch (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), runs his beach patrol team like a military operation. His aides-de-beach are Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and C.J. (Kelly Rohrbach) — the original Mitch and C.J. (David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson) pop up in the third act for DOA cameos.
Mitch and Co. are training a new batch of recruits: Ronnie (Jon Bass), Summer (Alexandra Daddario) and Brody (Efron).
Brody is a cocky, selfish and disgraced Olympic gold-medal swimmer, and Efron is, by laps, the best part of the movie. Inspired by another disgraced Olympic swimmer, Ryan Lochte, Efron’s performance proves yet again that he is peerless when it comes to playing dumb, damaged and handsome.
As Mitch teaches Brody how to work with others, the team uncovers a drug plot, its perpetrator the bay’s resident crime kingpin, Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra).
Like most modern comedies, this isn’t really a movie but a bunch of stray scenes stitched together with top 40 pop music. This format often works just fine. If the movie has good jokes. But “Baywatch” has so very few of those.
There are glimmers of intelligence. Like when Mitch recounts a few of his past adventures to Brody. (Brody: “Everything you’re describing sounds like a really entertaining but far-fetched TV show.”)
And while the movie’s action is just as unsuccessful as its comedy, the cheap-looking effects at least provide an inadvertent homage to the rock-bottom production values of the original series. (The movie’s so bad, it’s accurate.)
And I’ll say one more nice thing about this dreadful film: “Baywatch” is the first movie I can remember that objectifies male bodies as much as it does female. The camera gazes in close-up at Efron’s oily 28-pack as often as it does the swimsuit riding up Rohrbach’s rear.
This is equal-opportunity degradation. Which, I guess, is a kind of progress.
Cast: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Priyanka Chopra, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass
Rating: R for language throughout, crude sexual content and graphic nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Theaters: Aksarben, Alamo, Bluffs 17, Majestic, Midtown, Oakview, Regal, Twin Creek, Village Pointe, Westroads