An extended surfing video thinly disguised as an action movie, “In God’s Hands” is a disjointed blend of technical superiority, and narrative and dramatic weakness. In the hands of director Zalman King, whose tendency to privilege style over substance is well documented, pic hits the pulse-pounding high notes action fans will relish but delivers only a vague facsimile of a story. Given that description, “In God’s Hands” should score with surfing aficionados and sports-minded audiences, but crossover appeal is unlikely.
Not since “Baywatch” have so many tanned, toned, scantily clad bodies pranced in unison along beaches and frolicked in the sea. The loose story follows three pro surfers on their quest for the ultimate wave: prodigiously gifted wave rider Shane (Patrick Shane Dorian), once-great surfer Mickey (co-scripter Matt George) and youthful rising star Keoni (Matty Liu). Beginning on a beach in the South Seas, the three surfers journey by steamer to Madagascar, Bali and finally Hawaii in search of surfing nirvana.
Along the way, one suffers from malaria, another romances a beautiful girl from Ipanema and the other falls victim to the surf. Who does which is fairly insignificant, as the jerry-built storyline is just an excuse for numerous shots of luscious scenery and towering waves that play like a video from the Indonesian Tourist Authority.
Equally distracting, the cast is made of professional surfers who perform with grace and courage in the jaws of a powerful wave, but whose reading of dialogue comes off as stilted and unnatural — so much so that some lines elicit unintentional laughs. As such, the film does little to dispel prevalent stereotypes of surfers as essentially shallow wave worshipers.
Helmer King specializes in what might best be described as the sensual blur — that is, lush images rapidly edited together whose significance as a whole is difficult to divine. For instance, the opening sequence, in which the surfers, clad only in swim trunks, must escape from prison (why they’re jailed is not fully clear), plays like a vaguely erotic musicvideo, replete with close-ups of rippled abdomens and shining pecs.
While there’s refreshingly little sex here for a King movie, there are enough shots lingering over male bodies to fuel viewers’ imaginations. Much more impressive is the water imagery. Obviously, shooting surfers curled inside 40-foot waves presented enormous technical challenges, and lensers John Aronson and special water d.p. Sonny Miller do a commendable job, using the widescreen to its full advantage. Moreover, King and crew present the surfing shots in fluid takes rather than spliced-together sequences that would have diminished their potency. Undeniably beautiful, by turns majestic and menacing, waves are pic’s most powerful force. Still, by the 40th shot of a gargantuan wave curling like an angry dragon’s tail, all but die-hard fans might well tire of the imagery.
Adding to the amplitude of the surfing scenes, the sound plays an integral role. Clearly not meant for the faint-hearted, the SDDS system is so forceful and loud that the thunderous roar accompanying every giant wave sounds astonishingly like the gut-splitting rumble of a 7.0 earthquake.