Rocky on a surfboard, 8 Miles at sea. Surprisingly good drama of the 'overcoming obstacles' mould.
Hawaii's a lovely place, by the looks of it. Sun, sea, surf and luxurious hotels - for those that can afford them. Many of the locals aren't so affluent, but someone has to work in those hotels and clean up after the rich Americans. Some of these people are Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake), housemates who, all things being equal would rather be surfing. Anne Marie in particular has a tough time of things, her mother having skipped town to jet off to Las Vegas some while ago leaving her to raise her 14 year old sister, Penny (Mika Boorem). Life may not be as they had planned, but they're mostly happy, although Penny has a few behavioural problems not uncommon to teenagers, especially those whose mothers have done a runner.
Anne Marie is haunted by nightmares of an incident of a few years ago, bailing out on a particularly huge wave and braining herself on a reef. After this near-death experience, she's found it impossible to attack and commit to surfing the big waves, something she will have to rid herself of if she plans to win the upcoming surf championship. She trains in a variety of ways, including (strangely) walking on the ocean bed carrying a big rock while her two friends hang on to her shoulders in a striking yet decidedly odd visual.
Her plans are interrupted when she is dismissed from her job for taking face-to-face issue with one of the guests' particularly minging room and lax method of used condom disposal. The chap receiving a rollicking is part of a visiting American football team, one of the two tubby linebackers to be precise, Leslie (Faizon Love). This pair of clowns provides welcome comic relief throughout the movie, generally wandering around being brash and doing incongruous things, like workin' their 300lb booties at a hula display. Nothing clever, but amusing nonetheless, and Stockwell uses them spartanly enough that they don't become irritating. As part of her little outburst, she catches the eye of the team's quarterback, Matt (Matthew Davis). He pursues her to a local beach, asking for surfing lessons for him and his buddies. In need of the cash, she agrees. Of course, it's not long before the pair fall in love, in accordance with the prophecy.
Eden is less than chuffed with this turn of events, largely because Anne Marie is neglecting her training. The resulting argument, along with overheard gossip from the rest of the teams' rent-a-bimbo partners, sends a teary Anne Marie to question her commitment, value and life in general in the only forced-feeling portion of a movie that does a great job of making you care in some way about the characters. There's no one going about being selflessly heroic and noble, no sudden revelations of sob stories to explain their actions, no sudden shifts in their behaviour. Just simple camaraderie between the girls in their conversations and actions over a few scenes is all that's required to establish that these are good people who care deeply about each other, and so it's easier to believe in them.
The bulk of the acting load is shared between Bosworth (who as a bloke I'm contractually obliged to point out is as cute as a particularly cute button) and Rodriguez, who convey their emotions well. Their arguments never go to Def-Con 3, even when tempers are frayed and patch things up near enough immediately, as most real people do, when the standard movie temptation is to save that till the final act where Eden would show up at the last gasp providing the moral support for Anne Marie.
Similarly there aren't too many points where Anne Marie and Matt's relationship seem forced, although it does fit into a fairly short timeframe. There are no shock twists where we find Matt's a two timing pig, or a closet axe murderer, or just after her body. Again, just another nice person. The only enemy in the film is Anne Marie's own mind.
The contest, where they surf the most dangerous waves regularly surfed on, is called the Pipe. Despite all the encouragement offered by her friends, at the end of the day she's out there alone with the waves. Well, actually there is someone else out there as well. A real life superstar surfer, Kate Skarratt (I think, I'm not hugely up on surfing all-stars, and there are a few of them shown daring the Pipe) is out to compete against her but even she provides encouragement and advice for the younger lass, needed after one stab at it results in a nasty looking washout. I don't think it will ruin it for anyone to say that she does eventually manage to overcome the self-imposed barriers to ride these monstrous curls.
The main star in the movie isn't credited, and that's the ocean itself. Beautiful, awe-inspiring and fearsomely powerful, watching these gargantuan waves crash over themselves is a sight to behold. Seeing people actually surfing on them is almost unbelievable, requiring such a level of skill and grace that it seems impossible. Watching this from a long shot is mightily impressive, but the action and drama of the activity is enhanced hugely by Stockwell taking us inside in the pipe with on-surfboard shots, which must have been an utter nightmare to get. The effort pays off, and the kinetic energy of the film is greatly enhanced by it. Dramatic and beautiful, enhanced greatly by the rumbling roar and crash of the ocean. Whether this will have the same impact on the home formats is doubtful, but with a huge screen and a big sound system behind it this film is impressive indeed.
I can't find too many flaws in this film. It's a simple tale simply told, where Stockwell appreciates it's the beauty of the ocean rather than of the stars that brings punters in. Possibly the balance is a little too much in favour of detailing too many facets of Anne Marie's interactions with her friends, and could perhaps stand to loose a few of the sub plots that never really go anywhere. There's an antagonism between Matt and the local gang of surferboys which is dropped pretty much as soon as it's introduced and only made passing reference to at the end of the film, which seems redundant. Penny is a little bratty and annoying, but that's how she's been written as so it seems churlish to complain about it.
Bosworth and Matthew Davis have a reasonable chemistry on screen, never looking too uncomfortable. Matt is perhaps a little undefined, but it's a little much to expect him to relate his life story as a monologue to Anne Marie within a few days of knowing her, and would have annoyed me had they attempted it. It's easier to flesh out the female star's characters just by having them banter, and the script wisely chooses to focus more on this.
Blue Crush manages to avoid many of the tired paths this type of movie normally travel down, and is all the better for it. You could perhaps argue that all of the time spent on the relationships is wasted, as the main conflict is between Anne Marie and the sea, with only a surfboard as a co-star. However, all the background tribulations serve to make Anne Marie's struggle a little more personal and involving. It doesn't push back the boundaries of cinema, but what it attempts it does near-flawlessly. See it at the cinema rather than waiting for the video, though.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Matthew Davis (Matt)
Michelle Rodriguez (Eden)
Sanoe Lake (Lena)
Mika Boorem (Penny)