Sometimes, it's what a movie doesn't do that makes it so much fun to watch. And in avoiding several pitfalls while awkwardly stumbling into a few anyway, Blue Crush survives as one of the most visually entertaining films of the summer.
Make that "Cruel Summer," the Bananarama hit that gets a dancehall remix and drops into the action throughout this good-hearted surfer-girl of a flick -- perhaps an intended counterpoint to the surfer movie, Endless Summer. Even though the staple '80s guilty pleasure "Cruel Summer" was filled with empty angst over the dog days of the season, it also captures its ragged pleasures. Blue Crush is sort of like that as it lightly explores the lives of female surfers living clumsily on the edge, focusing on a girl battling her demons and trying to realize her dreams.
It's mostly surface stuff, but director/co-writer John Stockwell (Crazy/Beautiful) and co-writer Lizzy Weiss add enough light touches to make Blue Crush something to cheer for. (They pulled their story from Susan Orlean's Outside article, "Surf Girls of Maui.") This is more Rocky than Baywatch, even if the audience, like the surfers, can't wait to get back in the water. For that is where the movie does what this kind of movie should: describing, once again, the indescribable thrill of catching a wave.
While Kate Bosworth as Anne Marie scores points with her golden-girl smile, sun-kissed blond hair and true grit, the stars of this movie are the waves -- captured with hang-ten glee by cinematographer David Hennings (Very Bad Things) and editor Emma E. Hickox. Eschewing standard tank shots for the real deal, Hennings' camera is ubiquitous, swimming underwater and landing atop a board and clinging to its muse -- no angle is left unexplored. The point of view is so eye-popping that from below, the tubular waves look like storm clouds as their relentless curls implode. Here, the water is all consuming, in more ways than one. So it's no wonder that Anne Marie is still bearing the scars of a near-drowning incident as a junior-national champion three years earlier. She's unsure if she can overcome her fears to win an upcoming surfing championship loaded with the promise of endorsement deals and needed cash.
Apparently not content with one "issue," Stockwell and Weiss load up Anne Marie with other concerns. Her mom deserted her for a guy years earlier, leaving her to raise her rebellious teen sister who seems hell-bent on compounding all the mistakes Anne Marie made at the same age but somehow survived. And when a pro football quarterback (Matthew Davis) shows up with teammates for what we assume is a Pro Bowl working vacation and immediately falls for her -- well, now she's got to figure out if she can juggle love and waves. Either way, she faces rocky waters ahead.
Clearly, Stockwell has trouble navigating his own narrative flow more than he does the surfing action. Supporting characters get woefully inconsistent treatment. While best friend Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) has good reasons to push Anne Marie and gets pissed when she loses her focus, another roommate (real-life surfer Sanoe Lake) just seems happy to be along for the ride. And we never understand whether ex-boyfriend Drew (Chris Taloa) is equally contemptuous of Anne Marie for not realizing her potential or is just plain pissed that he's an ex.
Yet, at the same time, Stockwell's understatements provide pleasant surprises. For starters, beyond doing the obvious and showing his female posse in one bikini after another, Stockwell hesitates to lust over his subjects. They're surfer girls, so lots of skin is inevitable. But it's not as if we're watching Yasmine Bleeth flopping up and down the beach in slow motion every frame. (Although these are the films for which slow motion was made.) We get the skin, but minimal titillation. Elsewhere, though there's an unmistakable overcoming-the-odds thing going on, Stockwell trades in The Confrontation for mini-confrontations, with Eden, with Drew and with her quarterback beau -- who offers a timely analogy when she's literally flat on her back and possibly out of the game.
Even the climax has a nice, surprising undertow about it, learning a lesson from Rocky in that there's just as much fun in a moral victory as the absolute ones. Add up all of these nice touches, and you have something with a little bit of heart, a little bit of spunk and a little bit of humor.
And a lot of action, which is as it should be. Every time the story hits land, you can feel the seconds ticking away until the next surfing scene. The stars claim they received tons of surfing lessons for this film, and whether it's true or not, Stockwell (with Hickox's snappy cuts) makes Bosworth and the others look like real pros. When she glides across the water inside a wave, she does what we all wish she could do: drag one hand along the wave's belly, creating her own mini-ripple of joy.
Just like the movie itself.
- In too deep? Aspiring surfer Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth, with real-life pro surfer Keala Kennelly) looks for the perfect wave in Blue Crush.