Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Surfing movies generally fall into one of two categories. Big budget extreme sport action flicks like Point Break, or low budget zen experiences like The Endless Summer. The former are seen by lots of people, but are generally missing the point of surfing which, as I understand it, is to reach a balance between adrenaline rush and a calm, at-oneness with the earth. The latter type of surf film gets the point, but who cares, because only surfers go to see them. Blue Crush is an anomaly. It's a zen flick masquerading as an adrenaline ride.

I've certainly seen worse movies than this. Late summer is kind of like late winter, in that it's a dumping ground for movies that have no chance against the blockbusters of the high season, and no Oscar cach to carry them through to Christmas. Most of these movies are just junk, but every once in a while you get one that can pull ahead a little. Blue Crush is one of these. It's the story of Anne Marie, a little surfer girl with the talent to become a superstar if she could just get over a little nagging phobia of getting her head smashed to a pulp on the reef under a towering twenty-foot wave. In fact, the recurring flashback of the accident that put her on edge in the first place is enough to keep me away from a surfboard for the rest of my life. She, however, can't stay away, because she has to win Pipe Masters, a killer surfing competition that will prove once and for all that she's got what it takes to play with the big boys.

Anne Marie lives in beautiful Hawaii with two friends, also surfer girls, and her fourteen year old sister, who, understandably, has no interest in school and just wants to surf and party like big sis and the gals. The movie throws us a little of the ol' struggling sisters trying their best to make it after mom abandons them storyline, but that never really goes anywhere. The girls scratch out just enough living to keep them in the waves by working as maids in a local five-star resort, everyday getting a glimpse of how the swells live. I had a hard time deciding if the girls were jealous of the tourists and their monied ways, or if they were disdainful and, like other locals portrayed in the film, fiercely protective of their claim on all this land has to offer. Maybe both. Either way, it's inevitable that Anne Marie is going to fall in love with one of them, a strapping professional football player from No-Specified-City, USA. This is, of course, going to derail her plans to surf the Pipe, and it will be up to her friends to get her head on straight.

This is such an easy plot. It's simplistic and predictable to the very end. The acting is pretty poor as well, and the dialogue is some of the worst I've heard in a long time. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the entire production was staffed with actual surfers. This theory is furthered by the one aspect of the movie that makes it all worth watching: the surfing. Beautifully filmed, perfectly scored, and heart-pumpingly close up, the surfing in this film is treated reverentially. It is amazing what these people can do on a surfboard. I've heard it said that surfing is closer to an art than a sport, and while that sounds so pretentious you involuntarily have to throw in a Keanu Reeves-style "Dude!" after saying it, it just may be true. It's a completely internalized experience. Unlike other competitions, the only true measure of the quality of a particular wave ride is what it meant to you, the rider. I don't know, I guess it's easy for me to wax eloquent about an activity I've never been involved in but, boy, do it's practitioners seem to get a kick out of it.

When it's all said and done, Blue Crush amounts to little more than a special effects movie with your standard, poorly executed acting, writing, and plot. What gives it a little extra kick is that, unlike most of this genre, the effects in this film can make you laugh and cry, as well as gasp. And somebody deserves a hand, whether it be the actors or the computer geeks, for making it look like it was actually the actors out there surfing. Again, evidence to suggest that this is a film made completely by surfers.

I wouldn't recommend this movie to just anybody. I'm sure that there are any number of sources of surfing footage that don't require the investment of time that Anne Marie and her lamebrain romance do. But junior high and high school kids should love it. The relationships and conversations are right at their level, and they'll be out of the theater before they realize that there's almost no cussing, violence, or sex. So if you don't mind staying in the shallow end, Blue Crush can be a beautiful experience. Dude. Grade: C+

Blue Crush is rated PG-13 for minor language and adult situations.

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