“XXX” with breasts instead of biceps? “The Fast and the Furious” with surfboards instead of muscle cars? John Stockwell’s “Blue Crush” has all the trappings of an energetic, extreme-sports adventure, but ends up more of a creaky “Pretty Woman” retread, with the emphasis on self-empowering schmaltz and with the big-wave surfing that gives pic its title seemingly an afterthought. Given pic’s novelty (it is not the first, but certainly the highest-profile movie with women surfers) and Universal’s aggressive, youth-targeted marketing campaign, “Blue Crush” should enjoy some fast, if not furious late summer box office traffic, with a long and healthy video afterlife to follow.
In the grand tradition of sports and surf movies, “Blue Crush” traces the buildup to a big surfing contest — the Pipe Masters competition at the famous Pipeline break, located on Oahu’s North Shore — in which our heroine, Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), will compete. When pic opens, Pipe Masters is seven days away and Anne Marie, like all good sports-movie heroines, has several obstacles to overcome: In addition single-handedly raising her younger sister (Mika Boorem) in a ramshackle beach house, she’s haunted by her near-drowning three years earlier at — you guessed it — Pipeline.
When the surf isn’t up, Anne Marie and her two roommates — Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake) — work as maids in a posh Sunset Beach hotel. It’s there that Anne Marie rather awkwardly meets-cutes with Matt (Matthew Davis), an NFL quarterback who offers to pay Anne Marie for surfing lessons, but who has his mind on much more than just surfing.
The ensuing courtship between the poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks and the rich Prince Charming proves too cliche to grab aud interest. (There’s even a scene where Anne Marie overhears several of the other players’ girlfriends/wives making fun of her unpolished ways.) However, “Blue Crush” doesn’t get pulled down into a watery grave by their romance largely because of the shrewd casting of newcomer Bosworth, who projects radiance, delicacy, uncertainty and inner strength.
A major discovery, Bosworth keeps “Blue Crush” paddling out against its own turbulent whitewater. But the movie never quite reaches the lineup. In adapting Susan Orlean’s article “Surf Girls of Maui,” Stockwell and co-writer Lizzy Weiss skimp too much on local color in favor of timeworn Hollywood cliches and a measure of (literal) bathroom humor that might make Austin Powers blush.
They also keep the always interesting Rodriguez saddled on the sidelines with a one-dimensional caricature of the “jealous best friend,” culminating in a scene where Rodriguez, Mrs. Danvers-style, longingly watches an old surf video of Anne Marie in her prime.
To Stockwell’s credit, there are some satisfying moments, quiet observations about surf culture (calling to check the local wave report before you’ve even opened your eyes in the morning; sitting in the lineup, waiting, waiting, waiting for a wave to come along) that will ring true for novice and longtime surfers alike. And there’s an undeniable sexiness to both the cast and the surf, that will no doubt inspire a new crop of moviegoers (and female moviegoers in particular) to get out there and pick up a board.Admittedly, “Blue Crush” isn’t really after an exploration of surfing ethos in the way of Bruce Brown’s early films or Zalman King’s “In God’s Hands.” It’s more concerned with breakneck-paced montage sequences scored to some of the two-dozen pop ballads that comprise pic’s soundtrack.
But pic’s grave disappointment is that its surf footage doesn’t truly wow us. Stockwell gets us inside waves all right, but he overly manipulates the footage –cutting between a dizzying array of angles, speeding things up and slowing things down — only occasionally pausing to capture that ethereal ballet of surfer and wave moving in tandem.