Blue Crush

Blue Crush
Director: John Stockwell
Screenplay: Lizzy Weiss & John Stockwell (story by Lizzy Weiss, based on the article "Surf Girls of Maui" by Susan Orlean)
Stars: Kate Bosworth (Anne Marie), Michelle Rodriguez (Eden), Matthew Davis (Matt Tollman), Sanoe Lake (Lena), Mika Boorem (Penny), Kala Alexander (Kala), Chris Taloa (Drew)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2002
Country: USA

In the ideal surfer movie, the surfer hero's main quest in life is to find some transcendental spiritual high that can only be attained while riding the waves—think Patrick Swayze's adrenaline-junkie shaman in Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break (1991). In Blue Crush, however, the surfer hero just want to score a sponsor. It foregoes the mythical for the practical.

By viewing surfing as a means to fame and fortune, Blue Crush is a thematic disappointment for those who consider surfing to be equal to a religious experience, especially since the surfers this time around are women, a gender reversal that the movie deals with primarily by staging games of one-up-(wo)manship between the heady girls and the established male chauvinists who think the waves belong to guys only and don't want "chicks" encroaching on their territory. Of course, the fact that they're all tan, buff, and beautiful means that, in the end, everyone wins anyway.

However, credit should be given to cowriter/director John Stockwell (crazy/beautiful) and cowriter Lizzy Weiss for showing us why the heroine, a tough cookie in her 20s name Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), just wants to score a sponsor: Having been deserted by her mother, she is left to take care of Penny (Mika Boorem), her feisty kid sister, and eek out a living with her two best friends, Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake), working as maids at a luxury hotel. Not an ideal life, but one that works with as best she can. Unfortunately, other aspects of the script don't gel as well, including a rote "past experience" in which Anne Marie almost drowned three years earlier in a surfing competition, thus she has to get past her own inner demons before she can break the gender barrier in surfing.

Anne Marie has other issues to deal with, as well, namely a sudden romance with a professional football player named Matt Tollman (Matthew Davis, who played the cad boyfriend in Legally Blonde) who is in Hawaii on vacation. Being a working-class girl who can never pay the rent and the electrical bill in the same month, Anne Marie is easily swept off her feet by a clean-cut, athletic guy who stays in a posh hotel (the one in which she works as a maid) and allows her to order anything and everything she wants from room service. One can almost forgive Anne Marie for dropping the pretenses of surfer grrrl power and allowing herself to be romanced, even if it might just be a meaningless vacation fling, something the overprotective Eden points out to her time and again.

Thus, much of the narrative comes down to a tear between Anne Marie's romance with a "tourist," probably the most loathsome species of human being in the eyes of her native surfer buddies, and her drive to compete in the Pipe Masters, a surfing competition that is a week away and could get her noticed by sponsors and the press. Little surprise, then, that the competition becomes the movie's big climax, as the romantic element recedes to the background and the narrative once again focuses on Anne Marie overcoming her own fears of being crushed beneath the waves (there is a relentlessly insistent focus on the dangers of the Pipe Masters and how some competitors are carried away on stretchers after wiping out).

Filmed on-location in Maui, Blue Crush is nothing if not beautiful. Stockwell and his cinematographer, David Hennings (Very Bad Things), capture the vibrant, crystal colors of the Hawaiian islands—the rich blue of the ocean contrasted with the stark white sand and the vibrant pinks and oranges of the early-morning sky. The movie is at its most breathtaking with Stockwell uses long takes and high angles to give us the scope of the grandeur, and it falters most when he and editor Emma E. Hickox (A Walk to Remember) start trying too hard to distinguish themselves by breaking up the mise-en-scene with rapid, discontinuous editing and gimmicky shots like a "surfboard POV."

Though the visuals are often gorgeous, the dramatic elements of Blue Crush don't always work quite as well as they should because there is not enough attention given to them. The relationship between Anne Marie and Matt is sweet, but it lacks any real heat because we never get a sense of what they have together other than body chemistry, which saps some of the tension out of the "Is it real or is it a fling?" question. The vexed relationship between Anne Marie and Eden works better, as does her relationship with her little sister, with whom she has trouble largely because Penny is a dim reflection of what Anne Marie was like at 14 and she doesn't like it. Of course, most people who go to see Blue Crush will want to see wicked-cool surfing, hot girls in tiny bikinis, and glamorous female empowerment, each of which the movie dishes out with plenty to spare.

Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (2.5)

James Kendrick

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