‘Baywatch’ Aims Low – and Still Misses the Mark

Baywatch has a paper-thin plot, which has been unnecessarily padded to pass off as something substantial.

Poster of Baywatch. Credit: Facebook

A film like Baywatch isn’t going to surprise you: It’s a what-you-see-is-what-you-get affair. Centred on lifeguards in a Florida beach – led by Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), and compromising two old-timers, C.J. Parker (Kelly Rohrbach) and Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) – Baywatch begins with the team looking to recruit three more members. They finally settle on surfer Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), socially awkward Ronnie (Jon Bass) and disgraced Olympic champion Matt Brody (Zac Efron).

Baywatch has paper-thin characters. Buchannon is virtuous – a little too virtuous perhaps – and loved by all in the community. Brody is cocky and has a crush on Quinn. Ronnie is a nerd and has a crush on Parker. Quinn is a no-nonsense surfer. Holden doesn’t have much to do. Then there’s the film’s villain, businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the owner of a club running a drug racket.

It is 2017, and you can’t watch a film like Baywatch – whose only USP is pretty bodies and pretty beaches – with a straight face. So it’s heartening that the film is slightly self-aware. It has self-reflective gags – the one about lifeguards walking and running in slow-motion, a riff on the original show, is amusing. The stereotype of someone good-looking but dumb, embodied by Efron’s Brody, a male, is subversive and funny. But that’s about it. Given that this is Baywatch, there’s casual sexism aplenty (especially in the film’s initial part); characters, especially Ronnie, trying hard to be funny; a sense of danger forced into the film, prodding us to take it seriously.

But Baywatch doesn’t belong anywhere. It tries its bit with the self-aware humour, but only achieves as much. Some fight sequences, such as Buchannon taking on Leeds’s underling in a kid’s bedroom, begin well, but soon regress into gratuitous seriousness. You can’t enjoy it as a serious actioner, either, for the stakes in the film are conspicuous by absence. Its central plot point, of an evil businessman peddling drugs, is so hackneyed that it fails to leave an impression. The film could have been saved by smart writing, smart enough to consistently surprise and intrigue the audience, but that’s not the case. Besides, Baywatch has a paper-thin plot, which has been unnecessarily padded to pass off as something substantial.

Like many mediocre movies, Baywatch’s script is kept afloat by strange character motivations, coincidences and convenient plot turns. Its dialogues, too, are remarkably pedestrian. You’ve to sit through gems such as, “It’s not just a job. It’s a way of life” with a straight face. And then there’s forced nostalgia: the cameos of David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, main characters from the TV series, look contrived and needless.

As the film’s villain, Chopra’s Leeds has a pivotal role in the film, even though she doesn’t get a lot of screen time. Chopra, who is a much better actor than this role expects her to be, looks at home, but, saddled with a cardboard character and forgettable lines, she doesn’t have much to do. Baywatch aims low, and still misses the mark. Chopra deserved a better Hollywood debut.