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Looking Back: Blue Crush (2002)

In John Stockwell’s “Blue Crush,” Kate Bosworth (in her first starring role) plays Anne Marie Chadwick, a gifted surfer who lives in Hawaii and is still scarred psychologically from wiping out three years earlier. As a major surfing competition looms, she works as a maid in a hotel and shares a home with her sister (Mika Boorem of “Hearts in Atlantis”) and two girlfriends (Michelle Rodriguez and Sanoe Lake). A sudden relationship with a visiting football player (Matthew Davis of “Legally Blonde”) makes her reconsider what she wants in life and whether she’s good enough to compete at the highest level.

Stockwell is a former teen star who once co-starred in “Christine,” “My Science Project” and “Top Gun.” He later found his niche as a hot bodies and ocean adventure filmmaker, as this, “Into the Blue,” “Touristas” and the Halle Berry stinker “Dark Tide” are all his. He appears to have studied at the Jerry Bruckheimer/Don Simpson School of Filmmaking, as he knows how to sell an image, plaster every frame with sexy actors and fill most scenes with non-stop soundtrack cuts. He also gives the surfing scenes a real visceral thrill, which is essential for a movie like this. The cinematography, editing and sound effects editing are especially strong at making you feel the weightless exhilaration of either riding a perfect set or getting horribly tossed by an onslaught of waves.

Bosworth is a strong lead and carries this with her considerable charisma. She’s also a good match for Davis and evokes her character’s ability to press on after defeat. Rodriguez, making this after only one “Fast and Furious” into her career, is too good an actress for this role (though the same could be said even more of her other 2002 movie appearance in “Resident Evil”). Boorem and Lake are likable performers but their characters fade into the background too often.

Despite being based on Susan Orlean’s article titled “Surf Girls of Maui,” this clearly wasn’t filmed on the Valley Island at all. As a depiction of modern day Hawaiian life, it gets little details right. Opening with Bob Marley was a good choice and so is the practical exchange the girls have with a local lady running a pit stop. Emphasizing how the girls have to work in the tourist industry in order to pay their rent and afford their surfing lifestyles is one of the strongest qualities to the screenplay. Scenes of the girls having to suffer the indignities of cleaning for rich, sloppy tourists rings true and gives the actresses their best moments to shine. Otherwise, so much of this plays like old school movie formula. Anne Marie’s troubled journey and contrived, eventual victory feels inevitable, not hard earned or believable.

The dialog is exceptionally bad, even for movies like this. Rodriguez has the worst of them, laying on heavy exposition and pointing out obvious bits of plot for audiences with short attention spans. Instead of spouting patter that sounds authentic, the lines sound forced and irritating. This is also one of those unfortunate Hollywood movies set in Hawaii where none of the actors ever attempt to speak Pidgin English or consistently provide authentic local flavor. Well, there is the one, totally clichéd moment where a rival surfer yells out, “Go back to the mainland, haole!” Other than that, this movie could have taken place in Florida, Jamaica or anywhere there’s an ocean.

There are a few scenes where it looks like Bosworth’s face has been obviously grafted onto her stunt surfer’s face. In fact, having just read up on the film’s production, it seems that is exactly what they did! The sequence of Anne Marie and her bunch teaching some obnoxious football players how to surf (led by the reliably funny Faizon Love) should work but they make for some of the corniest moments. While Bosworth is playing an empowered woman, her character comes across as weak, because the role has such an ill-defined inner life.

“Blue Crush” hangs a solid ten when it’s in the ocean but mostly wipes out big time whenever the story takes hold. Genuine surfer movie cult classics “North Shore” and “Big Wednesday” have this beat on a very basic level: yes, they sport awesome surfing footage but they also got you inside the mind of the protagonist. Those movies made you understand why the main character was so obsessed with being in the water, even when the danger is visibly overwhelming. Bosworth’s performance has an inner strength but we never get into her headspace (and no, dopey flashbacks to the time she banged her head and wiped out aren’t enough). Great surf movies show and tell you why these characters can’t wait to get in the water and have an attraction and relationship with the movement of the ocean. “Blue Crush” has lots of great wave rider scenes and some jaw dropping shots but is as empty headed as your average Frankie and Annette beach movie.

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