Baywatch: A comedy… supposedly

 

You don’t just write a comedy without putting work into the jokes. And yet, Baywatch seems like the makers were just allowed to wing it on the sets, never mind that they decided to reinterpret the television series—an action drama—as an adult comedy. Right at the outset of the two-hour-long film, you realise that it is a bit like that friend we all have, who mistakenly is convinced that his jokes are funny. The film begins with a lengthy attempt at slapstick humour when a man’s genitals get stuck. And then, you’ve got the leader of the lifeguards, Mitch (Dwayne Johnson), calling his trainee, Matt Brody (Zac Efron), by various names that he deems to be insulting, including One Direction, NSYNC, Bieber, and Butterfly. And then, you’ve got one scene in which all the characters repeatedly use the word ‘technically’. Towards the end, Matt Brody is shown to be so stupid that he thinks 0900 hours is the military time for 9pm. I haven’t seen another film with as many jokes that fall flat. If you’re easily tickled, you must watch Baywatch; it’ll cure you.

Baywatch
Director: Seth Gordon
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra
Storyline: A bunch of swimsuit-clad lifeguards have some problems

The only thing that’s potentially funny is when Baywatch takes ill-advised detours into serious territory. At all times, director Seth Gordon seems unsure if he should treat the film’s premise as a parody. When Mitch starts off giving a passionate speech about the importance of being a part of Baywatch—as he poignantly puts it, “It’s a way of life”—you’re convinced it’s all a joke. But slowly, you realise the film isn’t really treating it as one. Throughout the film, other characters keep reminding Mitch not to confuse his role with that of a policeman. But he doesn’t care. In fact, he goes one step further and insists that his trainees call him lieutenant. This baffling inconsistency in treatment extends itself to the love angles too. While they are generally treated with frivolity, suddenly, you are shown two characters looking into each other’s eyes, saying, “You care about me. I care about you.” You lean back, waiting for a funny take-down, but it never comes.

Much in keeping with the spirit of the original television series, there are plenty of slo-mo scenes of women—and yes, men—running in swimsuits. And yet, in the framing of many shots, it’s the women whose bodies the camera shows particular fondness for. In one tight close-up shot of a character talking, you notice Priyanka Chopra’s getting objectified in the periphery.Baywatch is also apparently so clever that its sense of humour is not lost on itself, and so, you’ve often got characters uttering wisecracks over the use of its slo-mo shots. But you have to wonder, does a man being aware of his crimes while perpetuating it somehow make it less problematic?

And as for Priyanka Chopra, this was supposed to be her big Hollywood break. Her role, however, gives her not to much to chew on, and despite being the villain, her screen time is almost that of a glorified cameo. And yet, she isn’t the problem, considering how well she fits into the film’s universe. It’s the universe itself that’s the menace. At the end, in keeping with the trend these days, the bloopers kick in. Unfortunately, even they aren’t particularly funny, and I suppose that’s only reasonable considering you have just seen worse in the actual film.

This review was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share this review.

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