Baywatch, the movie based on the David Hasshelhoff series that ran from 1989-2001, opens this week. The Seth Gordon directed film stars Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Ilfenesh Hadera, Priyanka Chopra, and Alexandra Daddario. Officially, our review is that Baywatch is dumb but good natured, intermittently amusing, but mostly forgettable. Dwayne Johnson is delightful, as always, but even his charms aren’t enough to salvage Baywatch from being, at best, worthy of a Saturday afternoon hangover movie on HBO. It falls somewhere in between 21 Jumpstreet and Grown Ups, which is to say, it tries to be a cute satire, but it mostly ends up as a lazy comedy with a lot of really attractive people.
The film stars Dwayne Johnson as Mitch Buchanan, the leader of a group of lifeguards who do more than rescue drowning people: They also solve crimes. In this case, they’re investigating Victoria Leeds (Chopra), a drug-smuggling kingpin trying to buy up the land surrounding the beach and turn it into a private resort.
Notable for the purposes of this interview is Efron’s character, Matt Brody, who plays a cocky, washed-up two-time Gold medal Olympic swimmer. He is forced to do community service after his career is derailed when a night of heavy drinking costs his relay team a medal in the Olympics after Brody throws up in the pool. Efron’s character is nicknamed the Vomit Comet, and working for Baywatch is his opportunity to redeem himself.
After an early-morning screening of Baywatch, we sat down with Efron in a hotel that seems designed for these sorts of interviews. Despite the drizzly weather, Efron — as though looking the part of his character — is wearing flip flips, brightly colored swim trunks, and a hoodie. It’s hard to overstate how piercing and luminous those blue eyes of his are, even if the rest of his face is almost generic and expressionless, like a Ken Doll with eyes made of sapphires. Efron’s demeanor is friendly but somewhat defensive and uneasy — the review embargo lifted on the day of the interview, but Efron has weathered bad reviews before.
Pajiba: Good morning, and thank you for setting aside a few minutes for us.
Efron: Of course. Thanks for talking to me. I love your shirt. What is that supposed to be?
Pajiba: Oh, that’s a Godtopus. It’s the official deity of our website. Yeah, don’t ask.
Efron: I like it. How do say the name of your site again?
Pajiba: Puh-jye-ba. It rhymes with “vagina,” if you have a cold.
Efron: Ha! I’ll definitely remember that.
Pajiba: So, Zac. Let’s just get right into it. Why Baywatch? There are a lot of television remakes in the marketplace, but this one seems like an odd choice for this particular time.
Efron: You think so? I thought it was a fun script for a summer movie. You know, I think it’s a nice change of pace to have a big, fun comedy when there are so many superhero films. And how could I pass up the opportunity to work with Dwayne?
Pajiba: He’s great, isn’t he? He seems almost too good to be true, like there’s no way a guy can be that great and still be one of the biggest stars in the world.
Efron: I know, right?! But he is. He’s every bit as charming and fun to be around as he looks. He’s just a really good dude. I mean that sincerely. I had a blast working with him on this movie. We all did. I’ve never had more fun on a set than we did on Baywatch. It was like a vacation that we got paid for.
Pajiba: I could tell!
Efron: (*looks at me uneasily*)
Pajiba: No, I just mean, you know, that it looked like you guys were having a great time out there.
Efron: Yeah, yeah. It was a blast.
Pajiba: You play Matt Brody, a washed-up Olympic swimmer trying to regain some relevance. How much did you see yourself in this character?
Efron: Yeah, I mean, we both like to swim, love the beach, and we both have a little crush on Alex [Alexandra Daddario, who plays his love interest in the film].
Pajiba: Right, right! But did you see echoes of your own career in Matt Brody?
Efron: How do you mean?
Pajiba: I mean, you know, did you see this film as a comeback for you as an actor?
Efron: Come back from what?
Pajiba: For, like, your career?
Efron: I’ve been working steadily for the last decade, bud. I never went anywhere.
Pajiba: Yeah, sure. But, you know, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Dirty Grandpa, We Are Your Friends, That Awkward Moment?
Efron: Yes, those are movies I acted in. What about them?
Pajiba: Well, it’s not like they were big hits or anything.
Efron: Those movies did fine, bro. And don’t forget Neighbors
Pajiba: Right, but also Neighbors 2?
Efron: Look, guy, they can’t all be blockbuster hits. My career is doing fine.
Pajiba: Sure, sure. I mean, no offense or anything! I think I may have gotten off on the wrong foot here. Let me start again: Have you ever personally thrown up in a pool?
Pajiba: Uh, OK. What was it like working with David Hasselhoff? I hear that guy can knock a few back!
Efron: Er, yeah. I guess so. You know, he was only on the set for a day or two and I didn’t have any scenes with him. He seemed like a nice guy.
Pajiba: Oh cool. Cool.
Efron: (Paused for a moment) Do you think there’s something wrong with my career? I mean, why would you even ask that? That’s such an inappropriate question.
Pajiba: No, no! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I’ve actually seen almost all of your films!
Efron: Let me guess, you’re not a fan?
Pajiba: Uh, er. I mean. It just seems like you’re, I dunno, playing a lot of the same characters.
Efron: You mean, dumb pretty-boy jocks?
Pajiba: Yeah, I guess. But you know what. I saw you in Me and Orson Welles about a decade ago. You were really good in that! What happened?
Efron: What happened? What do you mean, what happened? I’ve made like 20 movies since then!
Pajiba: Right, I know. It’s just that …
Efron: It’s just that what?
Pajiba: I’m sorry. I’ve clearly stuck my foot in my mouth, and I’ve made you uncomfortable. Is there a way we can back up?
Efron: I don’t think so, bro.
Pajiba: I’m so sorry. This is Brad Cooper all over again. I’m lousy at interviews. I always manage to say the worst thing.
Efron: It’s fine. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.
Pajiba: It’s just that, you know: You have talent. I’ve seen it. I just don’t know why you keep making …
Efron: Making what? You know what? Nevermind. I think we’re done here.
(Efron stands up and turns to leave)
Pajiba: But wait! I wanted to ask you about your Ted Bundy project.
Efron ignores the question and continues to walk away. When he gets about five feet away, he turns around.
Efron: And you know what? Your shirt is stupid. And who the hell names their site vagiba?
Pajiba: It’s not vagiba. It’s Pajiba! With a P!