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Published: Friday, 8/16/2002

Blue Crush: Surfing film follows the formula

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kate Bosworth plays a surfer who is lured away from training for a major tournament by a pro football player. Kate Bosworth plays a surfer who is lured away from training for a major tournament by a pro football player.
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Kate Bosworth plays a surfer who is lured away from training for a major tournament by a pro football player.

Surfing movies are like skiing movies, and I know there is justice in the world because there aren't many of either.

The formula for these films is so inflexible, it is rumored to be etched on a tablet and hidden in a cave, for fear of alteration. Here's what happens: Surfers or skiers train, fight, bond, and party. Sprinkled in are three or four scenes set on a beach or mountainside, picturesque scenes shot at ABC's Wide World of Sports-distance from the action. These moments shift between the drama on the sidelines, where girlfriends gasp and announcers jabber, and the ocean or slope itself, where the heroes must overcome their fears and prove themselves at The Big Competition.

Capisce?

Blue Crush stars Kate Bosworth, a pretty Barbie head who must overcome her fear of the raging North Shore of Maui and prove herse ... well, you know. It is the first big surfing movie in a long while, and it follows the dreary rules of surfing movies - and it doesn't.

Blue Crush is not unlike its many scenes of surfers gliding through the curl of a wave, only to be sucked under the water and tossed around and slammed against the reef. We cheer Blue Crush on, surprised at how sharp it is, then we cringe when it continually dumps, embarrassed at how clumsy it can be.

Bosworth plays Anne Marie, a smart, poor teenager who is not headed to college, and who hangs out with her two best friends, Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake). She's fine, but either one of her friends would have made a better lead, especially the expressive Lake, a real-life Hawaiian surfer girl. Instead, this being a studio release, we get a blonde, predictable summer face.

Anyway, these three split their time between surfing and heading into town to work as maids at one of the big resort hotels, and when it's just this, a slice of life, hanging out and going through a typical day, it's wonderful. The movie picks up details you wouldn't expect, from the surfers' decrepit cars that line the beach parking lots to the way the female surfers jostle for position with the male surfers to the daily surf report.

That's when Blue Crush capsizes, cramming in a useless romance between Anne Marie and a vacationing NFL football player, a milquetoast Matt played by Matthew Davis. They sit on surfboards in the ocean and the film is so lovely to look at, you stare at the sunsets and forget they're out there. Everything slides off its rails fast as Anne Marie drops her training for a fling, and then finds herself with not just The Big Competition looming, but another movie clich on her back: Does she want to win a trophy, or be a trophy?

Don't answer yet. Dialogue includes: “This is your dream.” And: “You're not a quitter, you're just scared.” And: “Some guy thinks you look hot in a bikini and you forget all about The Contest?” And who could forget: “This is what you were born to do!”

Blue Crush is the best bad movie of the summer, and I hate writing that because one senses director John Stockwell, who proved with crazy/beautiful he has a rare knack for honest portrayals of teenagers, is eager to break from the formula. That is until one imagines how there are forces in this world far stronger than Stock-well. Forces like producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind) and Universal Pictures.

So we get a zillion little depressing compromises. As in crazy/beautiful, we hear about substance abuse but never see it, and that title - Blue Crush is too generic for what's a thoughtful, even journalistic flick. It's based on an article by Susan Orlean that ran a few years back in Outside magazine. The piece was called “The Maui Surfer Girls” and its opening lines are so vivid I still remember them:

“The Maui surfer girls love one another's hair. It is awesome hair, long and bleached by the sun, and it falls over their shoulders straight, like water, or in squiggles, like seaweed, or in waves.”

When it's not crushingly obvious, Blue Crush is just like this: evocative and exhilarating. Stock-well's surfing scenes are the best ever shot. As Bosworth rides a wave, the crush of the curl splashes water in her face, and she reaches a hand out to touch the lip, and the camera is literally on the surf board with her, riding through pipelines, getting sucked underwater, and capturing the rolling pins of water that slurp and spit at surfers until they break the surface, dazed. Aye carumba, indeed. Annette Funicello would drop her polka dots and run screaming.



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