Director – Seth Gordon
Cast – Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Ilfenesh Hadera, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson
Priyanka Chopra looks perfectly at home in Seth Gordon’s Baywatch. She would, since the humour is straight out of the Golmaal films and the plotting is vintage Abbas-Mustan. What is the point of going all the way to Hollywood if you are going to appear in something out of bad Bollywood?
Chopra plays Victoria Leeds, the new owner of a hotel on Emerald Bay that is a front for a drug smuggling operation conducted in plain sight, in broad daylight, and in full view. The bay is protected by chief lifeguard Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) and his posse. When packets with all but drugs written on them in capital letters wash up on the beach, Mitch knows that it is time to get serious and set the jaw at the angle that suggests that Baywatch is making its own small contribution to the drug problem ripping America’s innards.
Baywatch was almost an illicit thrill: all that flesh, running about so matter-of-factly. Even back then, I don’t think we mistook it for good TV, yet it was one of the post-liberalization Western pop culture imports that hit us early, and hard.
Seth Gordon’s big-screen Baywatch reboot is the daftest $70 million movie I’ve seen, and Hollywood makes one of those a month. No one goes into a Dwayne Johnson-starrer expecting a comedy of manners, but there’s some Grand Masti-level imbecility on display here. Early on, a new lifeguard tryout, Ronnie (Jon Bass) gets his appendage stuck in a wooden board because he’s aroused by the presence of CJ (Kelly Rohrbach). It’s a dumb joke but the movie keeps at it; a crowd gathers, other lifeguards join in, the scene stretches over five minutes. This is what you get when you give $70 million to the director of Horrible Bosses.
The movie begins with Dwayne Johnson’s Mitch Buchannon, head lifeguard of Baywatch, running around his beach, reaffirming his supremacy. Tryouts for positions on his team are tomorrow, and today a few of the new recruits introduce themselves. One is Ronnie the tubby, nerdy tech guy with a thing for always-running-in-slo-mo Baywatch hottie CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) His thing is such that it causes him some physical discomfort in a long, drawn-out, unfunny “stuck junk” bit half adapted from “There’s Something About Mary.” Another candidate is Alexandra Daddario’s Summer, who will be the slo-mo brunette to CJ’s blonde. Ilfenesh Hadera is Stephanie, the most authoritative female of the crew.) The guy who headquarters says must be included is disgraced Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron) who’s getting on the crew in a combination of publicity stunt and community service. Mitch is not too happy about this. His name-calling of Matt (which does include the sobriquet “High School Musical”) is one of the few running bits that manage to raise a smile.
After all the characters are introduced, we cut to the next day’s tryouts, at which Ronnie and Summer prove their mettle, and Matt goes head-to-head with Mitch. And after this scene, the movie injects an “are you looking at my boobs” exchange between Summer and Matt, in which the characters are wearing the costumes they had on in their introductory scenes taking place the day before. As they used to say on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” “They just didn’t care.”
Which may still have you asking, how does this affect the jokes? Well, in the trailer there’s one isolated bit in which Efron’s character stands gloating on a yacht deck, saying “Jason Bourne ain’t got nothing on me.” Only he doesn’t get to the last word, because a bad guy behind him knocks him out. Funny in the trailer, because it’s cut to hit on a certain beat, and it does. In the movie, they use a completely different take of the line and the shot—it’s a tighter perspective from a low angle, with a little anamorphic distortion—and there’s no breathing room before Efron makes his proclamation, so the line falls flat.
There was, apparently, a screenplay (by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift), the source of such witticisms as “Who taught you to drive, Stevie fucking Wonder?” and “Baywatch isn’t a job, it’s a way of life”. Mitch actually tells the applicants that they will have to learn to “sacrifice for something larger than themselves”—a statement at once blandly all-American and hilariously misplaced. Priyanka Chopra—the biggest star in the film after Johnson and Efron—plays antagonist Victoria Leeds. “I’m not a Bond villain… yet,” she purrs; her manicured but lifeless performance here suggests that even this may not be immediately forthcoming.
David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson have brief cameos—I can picture them getting together on set and laughing about how this movie makes the series look like King Lear. A blooper reel runs alongside the end credits. I think it’s cute that the film thinks there’s a noticeable difference between Johnson or Efron flubbing and nailing a scene.
The trailers were funny enough to make me look forward to the picture. Imagine my displeasure when confronted with the nearly two-hour full feature, in which the trailer jokes were no longer funny; a full feature with a story-line that an enterprising six-year-old might have thought was a little too rudimentary. Film could not do justice to the most buzzed trailer of the same.