You may not know that the original Baywatch TV series was canned after just one season on NBC. It wasn’t until its reanimation in 1991 for first-run syndication (executive produced by David Hasselhoff) that this show-zombie became a worldwide sensation. That makes it sort of the self-published surprise-smash novel of its time. Fifty Shades of Bay.

And Baywatch was never a particularly good show, but it sure did scratch a decade-plus global itch for hot bodies in red onesies jogging along the Coppertone-drizzled beaches of L.A. county. Our needs, it turns out, are basic.

And that’s really all this reboot had to do. Cast the Rock? Gravy. Make it a comedy, with a deep-R rating? Bonus. Spin some fanciful crime-lite plot? If you like. But give us the beauties on the beach, and if ever you falter, give us those beauties again. It’s so easy: Any time this film threatened to skip the rails, all director Seth Gordon had to do was shout that safe-word and show us some flesh. Boobs and abs shall be your guardrails, your training wheels, your guiding light home at night. Thus spake the Hoff.

So it’s hard to grasp how something so dead-brained simple has gone and gotten itself so thoroughly botched. It’s a true shame to take a film so promising in its own fleshy way — one shamelessly showcasing for its first fifteen glorious minutes the superhero bodies of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesh Hadera —  and so promptly devolve it into an apparently un-ironic, sneak-around-some-parties, find-the-drug-lord crime caper better suited to a straight-to-streaming B-movie.

Oh sure, it tries very hard to be self aware — hey, lifeguards aren’t cops! Lifeguards shouldn’t be solving crimes! Ha ha! — but it’s never quite aware enough to avoid spending much of its runtime doing precisely what it’s trying to lampoon.

The story actually starts out fairly promising, as these things go: Three new recruits join the Baywatch lifeguard squad, including a hard-partying and reckless two-time Olympic gold medal swimmer (Efron). Sparks fly as this bad-bro grates against legendary heroic guard Mitch Buchannon (Johnson). But all this — as well as some thinly-sketched proto-love-pairings that strain credulity even here — is soon forgotten in place of a been-there, done-that waterfront-land-grab slash drug-kingpin storyline. (Think Romeo Must Die, beach edition.)

All would be forgiven if the jokes were good, but they’re few, flat, and far between. As a comedy Baywatch never hits its stride, and stranger still, seems to lack any coherent comedic theme, offering up instead a strange bobbing flotsam of scattered and lifeless punchlines. A couple of bell-ends aside, it’s not particularly raunchy; it’s not sexy; and it doesn’t even press the Sandler-approved easy button (poop jokes and CGI critters running amok). It’s almost as though nine people fought over the script. (Oh.)

Almost every good scene is in the trailer. The Hoff and Pamela Anderson‘s cameos — which are top-credit billed, so you spend the whole film in waiting — are an unfortunate sideshow and a reminder that time is a thick-fingered bully to the faces of our youth. And in a development that irked me the whole way through, it’s not even set in L.A. — it looks more like Florida or the Georgia coast. Nope. Just all wrong.

Baywatch is not all bad, and it does have its moments. It has some great thumpy music, and about a quarter of it is honestly terrific fun to watch — rich eye candy, hero shots, wild saves. But these all happen early on, and sadly the remainder is squandered with uninteresting bickering whilst tiptoeing around Scooby Doo-style in pursuit of who-really-cares. (In this, of course, it’s true to the show. But we’d read Playboy for the articles years before we’d see Baywatch for the stories, yes?)

Even The Rock’s megawatt grin and the Efron / Daddario one-two-punch of perfect human trunks-in-trunks can’t save this one.

Haus Verdict: A fun trailer that became a far less fun crime caper. And I don’t say this often, but these people needed fewer clothes. 

Baywatch opens next Friday, May 25. 

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