One of the more interesting side attractions to the summer-movie circus is seeing whom the media crowns the "new action-movie king." Last year it was Angelina Jolie and her heaving T-shirt in Tomb Raider. This year there were early contenders with The Rock (The Scorpion King) and even little Tobey Maguire (Spiderman), but the final decision has gone to the surly Vin Diesel of XXX. None of their movies were particularly original (though Sam Raimi's Spiderman is the best of its genre), yet you didn't hear many outraged accusations of them being "derivative," "formulaic," or "shallow." No, critics have been applying those descriptions to Blue Crush, an unassuming little movie about competitive female surfersa story that's actually new to movies, and with more genuine action (in that humans actually do this stuff) than any of the above titles.
Perhaps we're so accustomed to the fact that summer action movies are usually retreads of older movies (Tomb Raider = Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Scorpion King = Conan the Barbarian, Spiderman = Superman, XXX = most any James Bond epic) that we just don't require much of them. So when a summer movie comes along that doesn't quite fit our template of expectations, critics are quick to pounce on its "failings." A perusal of negative reviews at compilation website rottentomatoes.com shows that many columnists are appalled at Blue Crush's attempts to tell a story on dry landcommenting that director John Stockwell should've kept his cameras on the water and pointed at all the cool surfing. After all, that's what surf movies are supposed to be about, right?
But despite its lack of hype, of household names, or of nonstop cartoon action, Blue Crush is one of the summer's more enjoyable movies. Compared to its competition, it is a veritable tidal wave of human drama (something we critics are supposed to condone) with a sense of realism in its depiction of a Hawaiian surfing subculture and of professional female surfers. In fact, it's refreshing to see a summer popcorn movie that tries this hard to get its story right when all that was expected of it was to show surfers on gnarly waves. While Blue Crush may not be a film for the ages, it is a fine movie for the summer of '02and possibly the first really decent surf movie.
Kate Bosworth stars as Anne Marie, a twentysomething competitive surfer who lives on Oahu, where the North Shore beach scene is the center of big-wave surfinggiant, 50-foot waves that can humble even seasoned pros. Fatherless and abandoned by her mother who left for a man on the mainland, Anne Marie is attempting to launch a career as a professional surfer while simultaneously raising her younger sister in their dilapidated shack. But surfing requires a huge commitment of attention, which leaves her sister to party beyond her yearswhich means she's following in Anne Marie's footsteps. Meanwhile, Anne Marie and her two roommates Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake) work as maids at a posh hotel, where Anne Marie meets a nice guy/NFL quarterback Matt (Matthew Davis). Can she really afford to dabble in romance when she's supposed to be training for what could be her big break, the Pipe Masters surf competition? And can she overcome her hidden fears of the big waves caused by a near drowning in her last competition?
Not the stuff of Shakespeare, perhaps, but Blue Crush gives you an original character to root for: a young female athlete trying to overcome not only her own self-doubt, but the doubts of male surfers who dominate the sport and rag her whenever they get the chance. Bosworth, with her Barbie-clean looks, appears at first to have been cast for her bikini-appeal, but she is convincing as a lifelong surfer and as a young woman who still hasn't figured out what she wants. Likewise, her supportive buds as played by Rodriguez and Lake show true camaraderie in what are underwritten rolesyou get the sense that these are real friends living real lives. For many girls, this may be Blue Crush's most appealing aspect, even moreso than the acrobatic surfing footage. Blue Crush depicts more genuine "girl power" than any number of ersatz Spice Girls/Britney/current model movies/videos/songs. (For the boys, there are, admittedly, a lot of really small bikinis.)
Of course, the multi-angle surfing shots are indeed exciting and give viewers a good idea of what it looks like to be on a board as it zips through a curling tunnel of water. But Blue Crush's bigger contribution to the surf-movie genre (such as it is) is a sense of realism. From the tattooed island surfer boys to the calm, real-life female pros, from the keg party settings to the maid-duty hazards, Blue Crush takes care to get the details right. While this is certainly rare in a summer youth movie, it's unheard of in a beach movie (short of a documentary).
So we've got cute girls and guys in their bathing suits, gnarly surfing footage, an interesting subculture, characters with more depth than most summer-movie action figures, and first-time movie exposure for pro female surfers. What's not to like?