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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 17th 2003:

As those who know me will happily confirm, there are few things I enjoy more than wriggling into my rubberised suit, breaking out the wax, and taking it to the extreme, no matter what the risk of personal injury. Or, failing that, going surfing. But, when I’m not hanging ten amidst the thunder of the briny deep, I do so also enjoy going to see surf movies (this is a lie, but I have to get the review started somehow). Unfortunately this has been a bit of a dead genre the last twenty years or so – the last surfing movie I can remember, Blue Juice, was not only set in Cornwall, but made so long ago that at the time Sean Pertwee was a bigger star than either Ewan McGregor or Catherine Zeta Jones. Ah, the good old days…

John Stockwell tries to do CPR on the corpse of the surf movie with Blue Crush, a film based on a magazine article by the noted journalist, drug addict and attempted murderer Susan Orlean (who’ll be living down the Kaufman brothers’ take on her in Adaptation. forever). It’s the story of Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), most talented of a group of young female surfers living in Maui. Due to return to the competitive circuit following a nasty head-rock-water-lungs type accident, her life is complicated by the wilful antics of her little sister Penny (Mika Boorem), and her lousy job as a hotel maid. As if all this weren’t enough, she is distracted from her preparation for the upcoming Pipe Masters tournament by the arrival of a handsome young American footballer (Matthew Davis, one of the most boring actors to hit our screens in a long while) – much to the disgust of her sulky, snarling trainer Eden (the semi-divine entity that is Michelle Rodriguez). How complicated can one surfer-chick’s life get?

It would have been easy for Stockwell and scriptwriter Lizzy Weiss to go down the obvious route and turn out a succession of cheesecake sequences in which golden-tanned bikinied honeys effortlessly ride the waves, when not sprawled invitingly beneath the waving fronds of palm trees. Quite how they didn’t manage it I’ll never know, but let’s get over our disappointment and look at what they decided to put in their film instead of all that.

Blue Crush starts promisingly, with an unexpectedly psychedelic opening sequence, and then segues into a rather impressively naturalistic mode. It doesn’t attempt to make life as a surf-chick look like one long beach party, instead it focuses on the crappy jobs, and the expense, and the prejudice they have to put up with from the local dudes. The film doesn’t shy away from the arcane jargon of surfing, either, providing welcome verisimilitude. And, in a low-key way, this works – the contrast between the realism and the directorial flourishes Stockwell inserts, seemingly at random, gives the film some energy.

But all this goes rather by the wayside as the film proceeds and the romantic subplot between Bosworth and Davis gets going. The film seems to travel twenty years back in time, as nasty 80s-style graphic design rears its ugly head, over familiar teen-movie plot threads appear from nowhere, and Bananarama songs insidiously take over the soundtrack. The romance itself is really, really dull. Both the characters are blandly attractive but deeply uninteresting, and the personal dilemma – should I pursue this romance or go all out to surf that pipe? – is trite and predictable. It’s a pretty thin plot about pretty thin characters (played, and don’t all laugh at once, by pretty and thin actors).

The salvation of any surf movie is usually the actual sequences out on the boards. And this is to some degree true of Blue Crush as well – it is utterly impossible to stick a camera out in the middle of a cresting wave and get an unimpressive shot, the surge and thunder of the water see to that. And a lot of the surfing, particularly that done by (suspiciously butch) real-life surf-chicks playing themselves, is as graceful and awe-inspiring as one would expect. The stars of the movie do a pretty good job too, but – and I can hardly bring myself to make the allegation, so heinous is the crime – it did look to me like there was some surreptitious use of CGI going on in a lot of the shots. For shame, for shame.

I was kind of disappointed by Blue Crush for all of these reasons, but mostly because it makes very poor use of arguably its greatest asset. Surfing nonsense aside, I went to see this movie mainly because it had Michelle Rodriguez in it, an actor whose praises I have repeatedly sung in the past in this column. I had, of course, reckoned without the great racial hierarchy which commercial Hollywood movies swear by. Kate Bosworth is no great shakes as an actress, but she’s blonde and toned enough to appear in a film by Leni Riefenstahl. This ensures she gets the lead roles ahead of a less-Aryan performer like our ‘Chelle, despite the fact that Rodriguez has five times her acting ability and ten times her screen presence and charisma. Scowling, uncompromising, and actually a bit scary, Rodriguez is an electrifying performer and the one actor in this movie who makes any impression at all. With Resident Evil and this, she’s making a career out of being the best thing in turkeys – stick this girl in a lead role in a film with a decent script and a superstar will be born! (That said, she still comes out of this movie better than the African Americans it depicts, who are universally portrayed as grotesque lard-arses with squalid personal habits.)

In the end, then, Blue Crush is really a bit Hawaii So-So. It’s not without its moments, but they’re few and far between. Not an offensively bad film, but hackneyed, old-fashioned, and deeply predictable.

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