Everyone in Baywatch seems amused to be in a movie version of Baywatch—how could they not be? (Their expressions range from “Is this really happening?” to “This is really happening.”) The laughs in director Seth Gordon’s surprisingly fun and self-mocking comedy don’t sneak up on you so much as hail you from a mile off with an air horn and then bonk you over the head as you approach. This is a film in which lifeguard Dwayne Johnson leaps out of the water (in slo-mo) with a rescued paraglider in his arms, while porpoises flip behind him in celebration. That moment also brings the film’s title, text rising from the deep like a repressed giggle that won’t go away.
The generous—radical?—thing about Hollywood’s version of the tush-ogling ’90s TV phenomenon is that, pretty quickly, it makes you feel in on the joke. Taking lessons from 2012’s wonderfully silly 21 Jump Street (in which Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill scientifically proved that bad television need not result in bad filmmaking), Baywatch owns its preposterousness with every barked line of self-serious dialogue and stuffed-to-bursting wet suit. The actors are what save it. Not only does Johnson build on his subversive persona of hulking, dim-witted likability, but he’s joined by Neighbors’ Zac Efron, today’s reigning king of the hazy one-liner, who plays cocky yet disgraced Olympic swimmer Matt Brody, nicknamed the Vomit Comet.