The past is virtually recaptured on a daily basis in “Local Boys,” a look at contempo Southern California surfer culture with a mid-’60s feel that’s almost uncanny. Formulaic and no more than competently made, modest item gets by on some heartfelt performances and genuine expressions of emotional need on the part of its lower-middle-class characters, whose lives would be vacant indeed were it not for what surfing brings them. Traditional dramatic approach and lack of major names mark this as a theatrical also-ran in today’s market. TV and vid beckon.
Without a trace of nostalgia or self-consciousness, director Ron Moler, who produced “Endless Summer II” and previously helmed “The Runner,” presents a world in which the worst teen violence amounts to some slashed tires and trashed surfboards, and the sexual hookups are as G-rated as in any of the Frankie-and-Annette beach romps of four decades ago.
More lifelike, however, are the emotional traumas. Good-looking teen Randy (Eric Christian Olsen), whose precious surfing time is curtailed by work detail at Malibu Chicken, is coping as well as can be expected with heavy big-brother responsibilities brought about by the death of his cop father. His brother Skeet (Jeremy Sumpter) tries to keep up with Randy and his high school buddies, but at only 12 is simply unable to process his emotions with any maturity. Patient and well-adjusted as she is, mom Jessica (Stacy Edwards) has to work long hours and can’t possibly compete with the thick mix of resentment and testosterone in the house.
Enter aging legendary surfer Jim Wesley (Mark Harmon, gruffly channeling Sam Elliott to impressive effect), who takes promising little surfer Skeet under his wing and eventually takes up with Jessica as well. Although Randy has long idolized Jim, whose grizzled features and stoical manner mask some deep personal damage, the protective teen gets his territorial dander up and tries to push the mysterious man away from his young brother, who desperately craves a strong father figure, and mother, who could use a little tenderness herself.
Confrontational scenes relating to this seemingly unresolvable conflict possess some realistic power, and resolution is satisfying. Much of what comes before is amiable enough but borderline bland, as mild emotional issues are shuffled with what Randy and his boys know is their final summer of hitting the waves together.
Some of the surfing footage rips, and doubles have been seamlessly integrated into the easier stuff the actors managed themselves. Locations on a variety of modest SoCal locations are briefly spiced by a trip the boys take to Mexican beaches.
Olsen (TV’s “Get Real”) is solid as a fun-loving kid forced to handle some difficult issues, while Sumpter (“Frailty”) shows real range for a pre-teen thesp. Edwards is sympathetic as always, while Harmon advances nicely into middle-aged character work.