Reviews of John Stockwell’s surfer dudette saga have been for the most part tepid. My guess is that’s due to some degree to the contrast in tone between this breezy, easygoing picture and its frenetic, superamped trailer. Based on its ads, one might understandably approach “Blue Crush” expecting the bikini-clad equivalent of a Warren Miller film but it’s closer in spirit to a watered down “Breaking Away.”
Kate Bosworth plays a twentysomething surfer whose promising competitive career stalled in the wake of an accident in which she nearly drowned. As the story opens, three years have passed, her mother has run off and left her to raise her kid sister, Bosworth has moved into a beach bum bungalow with her two best friends and the world’s most prestigious contest, the traditionally all male Rip Masters competition, is just days away.
The film is set on the Hawaiian island of Maui where the girls rise early to catch a few waves before reporting for work as chambermaids at one of the island’s luxury hotels. Bosworth’s preparations for the big match- which she hopes will put her back on the map- are sidetracked when a pro football team checks in for some r & r and the quarterback (Matt Davis) makes a pass. The young woman gives the celebrity athlete surfing lessons and, as their relationship heats up, he offers her a glimpse of the lifestyle she’s always envisioned she’d one day attain, that of a professional competitor lifted out of poverty by prize money, press coverage and corporate sponsorships.
The dynamic between the friends is a refreshingly realistic one. On one hand, Sanoe Lake is psyched that Bosworth is in love and is only too glad to drive her sister to school for her. On the other, Michelle Rodriguez cuts her zero slack, continually getting in her face about training. Even Mika Boorem as the little sister achieves a compelling shorthand portrait as a troubled adolescent who pulls herself out of her angst long enough to be there for Bosworth as the big day approaches.
The cast is made up of unknowns who are unlikely to remain that way for long. Every member contributes something unique and memorable from Bosworth, whose performance is affecting and economical, to bit players like the four hundred pound linebacker she instructs in the proper disposal of used condoms.
The real star of the show, of course, is the cinematography. One point on which reviewers have been pretty much unanimous is that the surfing footage in “Blue Crush” ranks as the most gorgeous and adrenalized in movie history. There isn’t an angle that goes unexplored. We see walls of water crashing from forty feet overhead. We look down from the crest of that same moving mountain. Over and over, we experience the rush of gliding through pipes of curling, collapsing ocean and likewise the terror and disorientation of being thrown under and held down for as much as a minute or more by the force of those waves. I can’t say I saw anything more exciting at the cineplex all summer, Vin Diesel’s cartoon antics included.
There are small pleasures and nice touches by the truckload here too: The surferspeak the girls use is a riot. The townie vs. privileged visitor thing is touched on but not flogged. And the script, cowritten by Stockwell, ducks formula gingerly in key spots. Neither Bosworth’s NFL love connection, the vibe between the male and female surfers nor the climactic contest are handled the way they would have been in less talented hands. I don’t understand why critics are bitching. Most beach movies wipe out. This one hangs at least 7 or 8 out of 10.