Baywatch review: Priyanka Chopra owns as villainous diva, but film is a deep disappointment
Baywatch, the film, starts with an introduction to the lifeguards on the beaches of Emerald Bay. There's Dwayne Johnson, who plays the head lifeguard, Mitch Buchannon.
The screening we're in has cut out any visual references to body parts, and yet, there's plenty of sexualisation of the female lifeguards in the introductory scenes. The slow-mo shots of the women running along the beach have not been cut out — because you know, male gaze.
Meanwhile, the lifeguard team gets a new recruit in Zac Efron (his character's called Matt Brody), who seems to have the best role. He's the outsider, the only one who's not that serious about lifeguarding, and he's funny. He's hired after a long scene of tryouts, which is basically just an excuse for showing off Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson's bodies. Cue: lots of slo-mo shots of them lifting things — tyres, fridges, you name it — as hip-hop plays in the background.
Brody (Efron) is an ex-Olympic swimmer. And there's a lot of shirts going off in the first few minutes.
It's all about the machismo on the one hand, and sexualisation of the women on the other. Gender is clearly depicted in extremes here.
The camaraderie between Mitch and Brody is definitely funny. They remind you of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill from 21 Jump Street.
But trouble is brewing in the form of Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), an elite club owner who's actually a vicious diva with an agenda of her own. Priyanka owns the frame whenever she's on screen, and totally holds her own against Efron and Johnson.
Victoria commands a whole underground world of crime and drugs, unbeknownst to our heroes. She gets friendly with the lifeguards, but only because she has some reasons involving real estate. She's also shown threatening local politicians to get her way. She'll remind you of the Priyanka Chopra of Aitraaz.
Characters are introduced with style but as far as plot is concerned, it's all very convenient that some or the other incident keeps happening. A fire breaks out on one day and someone falls off a pier on another. It's not terribly convincing.
Also, the background score is jarring. It's like the makers decided they would populate every scene with more music than one can comprehend.
The whole thing is set up to show in multiple ways, how brave Mitch is and how amazing his team of lifeguards are. Brody is clearly the underdog, as he struggles to keep pace. It's all very predictable.
The plot finally picks up some pace when the same boat that Victoria Leeds was threatening a politician in, catches fire. Nobody sees her, but when the politician's body is found, they know something fishy is up.
Mitch is an idealist and wants to solve the mystery behind the recent events and the death, whereas Brody is a realistic and wants to let the police solve it.
What follows is a bunch of random, disconnected episodes of them in pursuit. To their credit, The Rock, Zac and Priyanka perform very well and really seem to have 'sunk' into their characters. It's just that they have no plot to support them.
The biggest problem with Baywatch is not that it's a bad representation of a popular TV show, or that it has way too many distractions instead of a solid story. These are forgivable. Beyond the barely acceptable performances, Priyanka Chopra (who looks like she could have done this role in her sleep), and the camaraderie between Zac and The Rock, there is nothing about this film that grabs your attention. Except, at every point in the film, it is trying so hard to get your attention — be it with the cameos, the sexualisation or the overdone background score. Eventually though, it all seems forcefully tied together and uncohesive.