The production team behind Japanese hit “Shall We Dance” moves off the dancefloor into the pool with “Waterboys,” a goofy but charming comedy about a bunch of high school misfits who find acceptance and a sense of achievement in an all-boys synchronized swimming team. Ripe primarily for remake consideration, the warm-hearted teenpic’s broad humor, expansive acting style and less-than-smooth plotting make it not an item for discerning arthouse denizens. But its exuberant spirit, appealing young Speedo-clad cast and rousing triumph-of-the-underdog finale could help secure theatrical and video sales in some territories.
High school senior Suzuki (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is the last remaining member of the lackluster swim team, which risks being wiped from the program. The arrival of a cute new female instructor (Kaori Manabe) prompts a sudden boost in interest, but when she reveals her dream of coaching a synchronized swimming team the numbers plummet again, leaving only five boys. Along with Suzuki, the Esther Williams wannabes are Afro-haired failed jock Sato (Hiroshi Tamaki), calculus nerd Kanazawa (Kuen Kondo), skinny Ohta (Akifumi Miura), who’s desperate to beef up, and painfully shy Saotome (Takatoshi Kaneko), a gay boy nursing a secret crush.
When the coach’s pregnancy takes her out of the picture, the boys are left to train themselves and develop their own routine for the school carnival. Working through summer vacation and facing a growing stack of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, their sole encouragement in the community comes from some local transvestites. Suzuki stumbles upon a solution during a date at Sea World, convincing an exploitative but unwittingly helpful dolphin trainer (Naoto Takenaka) to polish the boys’ skills. Some unplanned TV news coverage attracts lots of last-minute sign-ups, turning the carnival performance into a major splash.
There’s something decidedly unrefined at times about the scripting of writer-director Shinobu Yaguchi, troweling on stumbling blocks in the team’s path rather than exploring the boys’ characters with any real depth. At times the agreeable tale feels overburdened with wacky developments and eccentric touches such as the drag queen supporters, who seem de trop given the sympathetic handling of gay themes around Saotome. But the laughs are frequently disarming, the boys genuinely likeable, and their poolside dance routines and water-ballet moves set to lively Nippon-pop tunes provide a fun, upbeat ending for this colorful, summery comedy.