August 24, 2002 -- Most movies about surfing aren't really about surfing. Surfing is just a backdrop for the real story (like "Point Break"). In "Blue Crush" surfing is the real story. The rest of the plot, what there is of it, is secondary.
The result is about what you would expect: A great-looking movie about surfing with a marginal love story grafted onto it, in much the same way an arm might be grafted onto a cocker spaniel. Kate Bosworth of "Remember the Titans" stars as surfer dudette Anne Marie, who lives for the surf. She is training hard for the "Pipe Masters" competition in Hawaii, but gets sidetracked by a handsome NFL quarterback Matt Tollman (played by Matthew Davis of "Legally Blonde").
Her surfer girl roommates believe that Anne Marie is making a big mistake by going out with the football player. They think she will get hurt, and worse than that, she is not concentrating on her surfing. Anne Marie's roommates are Eden (Michelle Rodriguez of "The Fast and the Furious") and Lena (played Sanoe Lake, a Hawaiian native). The crowded living quarters are also shared by Anne Marie's younger sister, Penny (Mika Boorem of "Along Came a Spider"). All of the roommates make their living as house cleaners at a big motel. Most of the plot revolves around the romance with the football player and the buildup to the big surfing contest.
As you can probably tell, the plot of this film follows the well-worn path of sports movies like "The Replacements" and "The Rookie" about people living lives of quiet desperation, hoping to make the big time. It all comes down to the big game (in this case, the surfing contest). The plot also bears an uncanny resemblance to "Lilo and Stitch," which also centered on the difficult relationship of an older sister trying to raise a younger sister alone, and which was also set in Hawaii. What sets this movie apart is that it really gets us inside the surfer lifestyle and the sport of surfing itself. It shows us there isn't anything easy about surfing. It also shows some of the problems a teenager has when she tries to raise a younger sister on her own.
The best thing in the movie is the way the surfing scenes are filmed. Camera operators Don King and Sonny Miller were joined on the water by body board champion Michael Stewart. Stewart rode into the waves on his board, balancing on his elbows, camera in hand, shooting shots inside the curl of the wave itself. According to the film's production notes it was "Filmed entirely on the North Shore (of Oahu) at the epicenter of big wave surfing - without a single blue screen or tank shot." According to the notes, 40 percent of the film was shot on the water. The surfing scenes are compelling and they give the viewer a feeling of the size and power of the waves. There is a lot of surfing in the film, and the surfing scenes continue right through most of the credits. The cinematography, directed by David Hennings ("Very Bad Things") does an excellent job of showing the audience how powerful these big waves are and how dangerous surfing is. Part of this was done using an underwater gyrocam. The underwater shots show how easy it is for a surfer to get disoriented after being rolled under water by a big wave.
Credit also goes to the director, John Stockwell ("Crazy/Beautiful") for casting some athletic actresses in the lead roles. Only one of the leading actresses, Sanoe Lake (who is a lifetime surfer and whose mother is a champion surfer), is an experienced surfer, but Kate Bosworth does a fine job in her surfing scenes too. Reportedly Bosworth started taking surfing lessons before she even got the role, just to show she was serious about getting the part. Michelle Rodriguez, who starred in "Girlfight" appears to be a natural athlete and she looks convincing in phsycically demanding roles. Professional surfers Rochelle Ballard and Megan Abubo doubled for Bosworth and Rodriguez in the more dangerous surfing scenes. In addition, top-flight professional surfers Keala Kennelly, Layne Beachley and Kate Skarratt appeared as themselves in the film. Oahu surfers Chris Taloa (who plays Drew) and Ruben Tejada (who plays JJ) were also cast as characters in the film. It is clear a lot of effort went into making this film convincing when it comes to surfing and the whole surfing subculture. It succeeds admirably on that level.
In comparison to the surfing footage, the dramatic and romantic elements of the film are weak, primarily because little time is devoted to them. I don't think the weakness of these film elements is the fault of the actors, who are compelling for the most part. I think the problem is that the primary emphasis of the screenplay and the filmmakers is on surfing, not on character development, drama or romance. That emphasis is reflected in the finished product. If you are interested in surfing and in the surfing lifestyle, this is the film to see. This film rates a C.
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