Hawaii’s homegrown “The Ride” got a glorious sendoff at its world preem, on a giant screen (and with equally massive loudspeakers) plunked in front of 15,000 viewers on the stretch of Waikiki Beach where much of its time-traveling story takes place. Tale’s affectionate and carefully rendered view of surfing’s early days as an international sport could give it great appeal beyond regular film fests. And with a few lucky breaks — particularly considering the roll surf films have been on of late — it could catch a few waves beyond its intended life inside the tube.
Pic gets off to a rocky start, struggling a bit to find its voice and hampered by the acting of Scot Davis, weakest link in an otherwise surprisingly strong amateur cast. Davis does, however, look the part of David Monroe, a California surfing champ who, between calls to his agent and picking up groupies in his limo, has forgotten the joy of the waves.
After a serious knock on the noggin during a particularly gnarly contest, a groggy David finds himself coming to on Waikiki Beach, circa 1911. He ends up seeking shelter with a native family in a nearby shack, the residence, it just so happens of Duke Kahanamoku. Kahanamoku is played by cast standout Sean Kaawa, a Honolulu musician who turns out to have tremendous screen presence. Kaawa’s dignified bearing, along with a devilishly playful streak, reps a remarkable depiction of the man who, as a master of giant mahogany plank-riding, revolutionized surfing and made Hawaii famous for something other than hula and ukuleles.
The period feel is supported by the locals who play Duke’s pals — they’ve never seen a white surfer before, and promptly dub him “Ghost.” Scenery is further warmed by Mary Paalani, radiating natural beauty and spunky smarts as David’s love interest, an island girl with mainland dreams. Once this part kicks in, Davis’ thesping improves, and the whole ensemble settles in to a good-hearted rhythm that more than compensates for the relatively thin material.
Found music, veering from traditional acoustic to modern electro-rock, feels somewhat haphazardly placed, with tracks fading in and out in unfinished fashion. Pic could use a few snips to get rid of Davis’ over-the-top reaction shots at start, and its duration would improve in the bargain. Surf scenes, while not quite on “Blue Crush” level, are fun in themselves, and add to overall marketability.