Published Dec 01, 2002You know that recent Sheryl Crow video, the one where she's cavorting on the beach in cut-offs with an acoustic guitar, all sun-bleached and sun kissed, while the boys of summer glide along crystal blue ocean waves? The sandy, glinting romance almost works - until she bleats out the last tired line about "rockin' on" from her thin mouth and you remember how bad the song actually is. Stuff like this is so seasonally manipulative that it's a wonder why it's not in heavy rotation in the middle of February, when we could all actually use a good defrosting.
Needless to say, I was expecting more of the same with Blue Crush: sun-dappled beach bunnies and bad one-liners. While it certainly does have the requisite sports-cheese movie clichés, the skies in Blue Crush are, if not overcast, at least partly cloudy. Slumming producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind) manages to turn his bid for Jerry Bruckheimer-style low-rent appeal into a corny but sweet drama about sisterhood and self-reliance.
Anne-Marie (Kate Bosworth) dreams of getting paid to surf. She eats waves and candy for breakfast every morning before shuttling her baby sister Penny off to school and being late for her job as a maid in Maui's dirtiest resort hotel. She's just about the best female surfer on the local scene (and, coincidently, the one who most resembles Kristy Swanson). The only problem is, after a near-drowning experience during a surfing competition three years ago, she's afraid of the big-mother waves that will win her plum endorsements and the first female cover of Surf magazine. "If you just would have committed you would have made that wave," her best friend Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) insists while trying to train her back into fighting weight.
Desperate to escape her food-stamp-in-paradise existence, she agrees to enter "the master surf" - the granddaddy of all Hawaiian surfing competitions, and the one where she previously almost lost her life. But after a corn fed NFL quarterback named Matt pays Anne-Marie $1000 for a week of "surfing lessons," her resolve to win the Pipe Master's tournament wanes, and her fear takes over. Her Midwestern Romeo plies her with fancy gowns and the opportunity to dine on hotel room service instead of cleaning it up afterward. Penny thinks he's made her into Malibu Barbie, but in actuality, she's a little closer to Pretty Woman. Will she come to her senses soon enough to make it to the competition? Yes, you already know the answer.
Surfing movies have garnered very little respect historically, and with good reason. This kind of movie is better served by a format like IMAX. Let's face it, the 20-foot waves are the real stars of the show. They manage to more than make up for the bland blondness (or is it blonde blandness?) of the leads. The exception of course is Rodriguez, who, with her squinty-eyed sneer and bad ass attitude is the female Vin Diesel, in a good kind of way.
Directed with a style that's part Richard Lester anarchic, part after-school special by John Stockwell (crazy/beautiful), Blue Crush's underwater shot choreography is quite visceral and sometimes even scary. Skulls ricochet off rocks and waves pummel and fling tiny bodies around with heedless verve. It's bloody and beautiful.
Would this movie be any less palatable if it weren't about female surfers? Probably. The fact that these are young women is not an incidental one in Blue Crush. Featuring real female surf goddesses (even one who is identified as the "queen of the back door!") the movie doesn't resort to those very male "I must break you" ideas of competition. There is no evil Aryan surfing opponent. In fact, Anne-Marie's chief rival helps her ride her personal best wave. Blue Crush manages to emerge from the pool of soft-core exploitation beach girl movies to stroll along the sandy shores of summertime near-respectability. Yes, it's silly and manipulative, but also somehow as refreshing as sea spray. As for the soundtrack? There's some Beth Orton and a hip-hop remix of Bananarama's "Cruel Summer," but nary a Sheryl Crow song within earshot.