Delivering a nice message of tolerance in an obvious but engaging way, the Disney Channel’s original movie “Johnny Tsunami” takes a 13-year-old champion surfer from the North Shore of Hawaii to the ski slopes of Vermont — and everybody learns a lesson along the way. Parents and grommets can paddle out and enjoy the ride together on “Tsunami’s” light waves.
Living in Hawaii is a paradise for teen Johnny Kapahaala, who worships his grandfather, legendary surfer Johnny Tsunami (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) — so named because of the prestigious Tsunami surfing medal he won years earlier.
But the Kapahaala family is somewhat fractured, the result of Johnny’s adolescence and passion for surfing as well as his father Pete’s estranged relationship with his dad. Pete is a driven businessman who routinely lectures Johnny about the dead-end lifestyle of the surf bum, i.e., his grandfather. Mom Melanie (Mary Page Keller) is caught in the middle.
Paradise is lost as Pete nabs a contract for his computer business in Vermont, and moves his family to New England, hoping to wrest Johnny out from under the influence of easygoing Gramps.
Upbeat Johnny is devastated, but he tries to fit in and soon learns the class distinctions in his new hometown. He’s dubbed a “Sky” because he attends the snooty Skyline Academy. And because he’s a Sky, he has to ski, but only down one side of the mountain. The other side is reserved for the “Urchins,” the public school kids who snowboard.
But, being an outsider, Johnny is tormented by the more Aryan Skys, and defects to the friendly, more fun and multicultural Urchins, who teach him to snowboard.
Telepic climaxes with a race down the mountain between Johnny and the most Aryan — and bratty — of the Skys, Brett (Zach Bostrom), with the telepic’s many issues riding on the deck of Johnny snowboard. Guess who wins?
Writers Doug Sloan and Ann Knapp take a cliched situation and don’t do much with it, but script’s brisk pacing moves the plot along swiftly enough to keep interest. Similarly, director Steve Boyum moves events at a speedy pace, while polished but not spectacular footage of skiers, snowboarders and surfers — obviously talented stunt doubles, but small fry won’t care — adds a gee-whiz factor.
The telepic surfs easily on young thesp Brandon Baker’s charisma, and he and fellow teen thesp Lee Thompson Young, as Johnny’s best Urchin friend Sam, rise above the pedestrian material, making “Johnny Tsunami” an unsubstantial but enjoyable ride. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is wise and enigmatic and every inch a surfing legend.
Good use is made of scenic locations in Hawaii and Utah, which subs nicely for Vermont.