From the very first minutes of "Blue Crush," director John Stockwell (2001's "crazy/beautiful
") had already succeeded, if at nothing else, in making the beach a place I really longed to be at, and surfing an alluring sport I really wanted to try. Had the film followed along a path to being nothing but a generic surfer movie, full of flashy stunts and shimmeringly beautiful cinematography but no characters to care about and no story with a brain, it very well could have worn out its welcome fast. That "Blue Crush" is set in the real world, and director Stockwell and cowriter Lizzy Weiss have gone to great lengths in displaying this reality, is what gives the picture a little more depth than what the targeted teen demographic is usually accustomed to.
Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), along with live-in best friends Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake), have bypassed college in favor of working as maids at a ritzy hotel resort to pay their rent, and spending all their free time surfing on the local Hawaiian beach. For Anne Marie, who has what it takes to become a surfing champion if she can get over her personal hang-ups, college was not even an option. Abandoned by her mother years ago, Anne Marie has had no choice but to care for her troubled 14-year-old sister, Penny (Mika Boorem). With Hawaii's most prestigious surfing competition, Pipemasters, approaching and Anne Marie on the contestant's list, her plans are thrown a curveball in the form of handsome NFL quarterback Matt Tollman (Matthew Davis). Although his actions suggest he wants to start a relationship, Anne Marie isn't so sure if she can trust someone who naively throws his money around as a way of paying people off.
Based on the magazine article "Surf Girls of Maui" by Susan Orlean, "Blue Crush" is fairly savvy in creating a character study around the topic of surfing, and even more successful when the camera follows its characters out to ride the waves. Surely, the main selling point behind the picture is its surfing, and director Stockwell, editor Emma E. Hickox (2002's "A Walk to Remember
"), and cinematographer David Hennings do not disappoint. Rarely has a sport been captured on film with such daring originality and nailbiting tension. From the rainbow-colored ocean, to the creative and complicated camera angles, to the awesome journeys through the pipelines of the waves, the film mercilessly throws the viewers into the dead-center of the action. The results are often nothing short of thrilling.
What is so critical in a sports movie is developing a lead character interesting enough to hold one's attention when the setting moves off the playing fields. Few films achieve this key ingredient, but Stockwell has gotten it right. In the type of first lead role that makes people sit up and take notice, Kate Bosworth (2000's "Remember the Titans
") is ideal in portraying Anne Marie as a young woman who isn't above making the wrong decision, but has the brain and heart to learn from her experiences. Not just a beach bum who surfs all day, Anne Marie has a teenage sister to take care of, and a house (albeit a cruddy one) to pay the rent on. The scenes set at her job, in which she, Eden, and Lena encounter some disgusting messes in the endless rooms they clean, hold a palpable feeling of tedium and hard work that rings true.
For a motion picture that makes no bones about its themes of female-empowerment, the romance that forms between Anne Marie and Matt is a notable misstep. Since Matt's NFL profession has brought him to Hawaii for only a brief stay, Anne Marie questions if it is going to work between them, and, even more so, if Matt is really the right guy for her. While an overall nice guy, Matt is an undeniable big-shot when it comes to his wealth, and the wrongheaded outcome of their relationship cheapens the message that the film has been trying to make all along.
Supporting Kate Bosworth in the actor category, Michelle Rodriguez (2002's "Resident Evil
"), as the no-nonsense Eden, is underutilized but still delivers for the first time since her debut in 2000's "Girlfight." In her last few films, Rodriguez has been asked to do nothing more than frown and act tough, but here gets ample chance to develop her rocky, but always caring, friendship with Anne Marie. Mika Boorem, such a standout in 2001's "Hearts in Atlantis
," does not get the same chance to make her Penny into a real person. The subplot involving Penny, whom Anne Marie worries has started to involve herself with drinking, smoking, and the wrong crowd, is brought up at the onset and completely dropped without satisfying closure. As Matt, Matthew Davis (2001's "Legally Blonde
") projects an even believability between immaturity and sincerity, despite not having the right stature to play an NFL quarterback.
Viewed as strictly a sports movie, "Blue Crush" is visually arresting and always involving. The finale, inevitably set at the Pipemasters tournament, does not quite feature the results one has come to expect from this genre, and it is better for it. And, as a sort of coming-of-age drama, the film is effective solely because Anne Marie has been written with incisive maturity. If some of the plot developments involving her conclude muddily, Bosworth steadfastly makes her character's decisions worth caring about.
©2002 by Dustin Putman