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Film Review: Baywatch

The big-screen version of 'Baywatch' drowns in its own juvenility

Dwayne Johnson (left) and Zac Efron in a still from Baywatch.
Dwayne Johnson (left) and Zac Efron in a still from Baywatch.

Baywatch and McDonald’s both came to India in the early-to-mid ’90s. It’s fitting that we took to both around the same time because they were, essentially, operating along similar lines. Both were utterly predictable and completely reliable, and—though it’s tough to admit now—pretty thrilling at the time. 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.

Rather than pretend that whatever existing lifeguards Mitch (Johnson), CJ, Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera) and new applicants Ronnie, Summer (Alexandra Daddrio) and Matt (Zac Efron) get up to in the movie is worth detailing, let me instead provide a taste of the subtle pleasures that await. There’s an entire exchange between Matt and Summer about him not being able keep from glancing at her breasts. There’s a scene with the two of them and Mitch in a hospital morgue, in which Matt has to lift the testicles of a corpse and check for evidence. There’s scene after scene of Ronnie humiliating himself and CJ inexplicably finding herself attracted to him as a result (Hollywood logic: the charmless horny geek always ends up with the hot bimbo). And my favourite: the woman on a burning boat who tells Mitch, mid-rescue: “If you want me you can have me."

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.

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