Bearing a 2000 copyright date and purporting to “introduce” star Marguerite Moreau (who made a splash at Toronto last year in Jane Weinstock’s “Easy”), silly surf-themed comedy “Off the Lip” could just as well be called “Off the Shelf,” as in the dusty one pic has been liberated from for a smattering of theatrical dates before riding its wave to ancillary shores. Rich in its love of surfing but curiously short on such footage, well-meaning directorial debut by producer Robert Mickelson is boosted by winning performances, but ultimately about as memorable as a day of 3-4 foot swells.
Though she doesn’t like surfing or know much about it, eager cub reporter Kat (Moreau) nonetheless finds herself given a plum assignment from a surfing website: to track down and interview a mythic (and possibly nonexistent) big-wave rider known only as the Monk, and to make a documentary video about her quest.
Kat is soon en route to Maui, with aspiring-filmmaker fiance, Brad (Mackenzie Astin), and his video crew in tow. There, they find a perpetually stoked local surf guide (Mark Fite) who promises to lead them to the Monk’s lair. But of course, nothing goes according to plan.
Among various detours, Kat and company find themselves knocking on the doors of multiple hoax Monks (including one well-played by ex-“Freaks and Geeks” guidance counselor Dave “Gruber” Allan), and having to hire a new sound man when the previous one dies in a freak accident (a questionably tasteful recurring gag). Pic also has more than its fair share of motion-sickness jokes along the way, and climactic sequence in which Kat and her father (David Rasche) are taken hostage by drug dealers with bad dental hygiene.
All the while, Kat files status reports back to the Web site’s resident tech geek (Adam Scott), who may be falling in love with her. Until, at a particularly inopportune moment, the proverbial Internet bubble bursts, leaving Kat with no real job and a very large unpaid hotel bill.
“Off the Lip” is as slight as movies come, yet the sunny scenery and Moreau’s effortless charm help make it warmer and more personable than a lot of assembly-line Hollywood product. The intense young Scott (who starred in the 2003 Slamdance pic “Ronnie” and did a memorable guest-starring stint on “Six Feet Under”) also comes across well, though Astin is saddled with an intentionally annoying character (he spouts Godard quotes, on cue, every few minutes).
Pic’s sensibility is generally fleet and energetic, with Mickelson and lenser Joey Forsyte using a lightweight digital videocamera on real Hawaii locations. In a “Blair Witch”-esque gesture, all onscreen images purport to be either from one of the two movies-within-the-movie (i.e., Kat’s and Brad’s) or from surveillance cameras that just happen to capture the characters’ actions.