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.
Whoever thought that the original television series Baywatch, alternately spelt Babewatch and Buttwatch, and its movie adaptation were anything but excuses to parade skimpily clad and perfectly epillated bodies and crack lowbrow jokes about the effect of these visions of beauty on the amygdala is mistaken.
Mitch is saddled with a new recruit, Matt (Zac Efron), who is repeatedly humiliated for his crybaby ways. Matt flashes his ocean-coloured eyes at Summer (Alexandra Daddario) and stares at her breasts as though he has never seen a pair even though he is an Olympian-level swimmer. But it’s clear that his heart throbs for the tank-like Mitch, who is described as “big” in 84 ways in the opening scene.
Didn’t get the joke? There’s a whole gag involving another new recruit, Ronnie (Jon Bass), and his disproportionate masculine reaction to lifeguard CJ (Kelly Rohrbach)¸or, to be precise, her decolletage. The Indian censors have trimmed back the scene, and for once, we are grateful.
Chopra does her own share of asset baring, but her Victoria, described as the “J Edgar Hoover” of the bay, is neither sexy nor sinister. Gordon’s faith in the whole enterprise is similarly shallow, evinced by the tired jokes about the slow-motion sprints on the beach that have made Baywatch Meme Central.
A flash appearance by one of Baywatch’s leading lights, Pamela Anderson, yields the movie’s best joke. She walks into the frame very, very slowly. “Is it just me or is she in super slow motion,” one of the lifeguards wants to know.
The television series is ripe for parody, but rather than a send-up in the Austin Powers mould, Gordon and his crew actually attempt a crime thriller. The overall lack of imagination is captured by Matt’s line to Mitch: “I dare you to say one thing without the ocean in it.”
Baywatch is as limited as Mitch’s vocabulary. When a movie is so good at analysing its own shortcomings, it’s time to reach for drowning metaphors.