THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


One of the best things movies do is take you places you would never get to go otherwise. Blue Crush takes you right into the middle of a giant wave rolling across the ocean. This film - set in the world of surfing - works overtime to make you feel like you're in the center of the action. Once upon a time, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello stood in front of a screen and waved their arms to simulate the activity. Blue Crush director John Stockwell (crazy/beautiful) literally sticks his camera on a surfboard and follows his characters on each wave.

Kate Bosworth plays Anne Marie, a young "surf girl" in Maui. Her life is not easy. She lives in a small apartment she can barely afford with roommates Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake). Her mother has abandoned her, leaving Anne Marie in charge of rebellious younger sister Penny (Mika Boorem). Although she's a skilled surfer, a violent wipeout three years earlier caused her to flee the competition circuit in fear. Now she has a chance to compete again, surfing a notoriously vicious wave called "the pipe," but anxiety is keeping her from committing herself to winning.

Anne Marie and her roomies work as housekeepers for a posh hotel on the other side of the island. The job is in no way glamorous, but it pays for surfing gear and that's all that matters. For them, the only economic concern is being able to afford to stay on top of the wave. At the hotel, Anne Marie meets Matt Tolman (Matthew Davis), a pro football player who is staying there with some teammates. They are instantly attracted to one another, and he offers to pay her for surfing lessons. This represents more money than she has ever made before. The fact that she wants to hook up with him also affects her course of action. Meanwhile, Eden becomes frustrated that Anne Marie is spending more time with Matt than she is getting ready for the competition. There's a confrontation in which Eden accuses her friend of passive-aggressively avoiding her dream in order to play it safe.

Mika Boorem, Sanoe Lake, Kate Bosworth, and Michelle Rodriguez are surf girls in Blue Crush
Plotwise, there's not much new in Blue Crush. We've seen the story about the fallen champion who must rise again to the top. And the idea of a character having to choose between her lifelong dream and her man is not original either. These ideas are handled well here, but there are two things that elevate the film. I liked the way it portrays the working class ethic of surfing. The surf girls are part of a larger culture for whom riding the waves is the only real drive in life. Working any job more ambitious than housecleaning would only get in the way of the ride. Anne Marie and friends make just enough money to feed their hobby, making sure that whatever they do leaves plenty of flexibility to go when the waves are just right. Because of this, they are looked down on by many people who fail to understand their passion. They are considered slackers when, in fact, they are simply ambitious in a different way.

The other key ingredient to Blue Crush is the phenomenal surfing footage. It's absolutely breathtaking. The actresses appear to do most of their own surfing, which adds to our involvement in the story. Stockwell takes time to let us learn a few things about surfing. I've always been fascinated by it and I appreciated the things I learned. There are sequences showing how surfers train, how they mount their boards, and how they gauge which waves are the best ones to ride. The movie also portrays what it's like to wipe out. Several times, Anne Marie gets pummeled by enormous waves. Through the use of tumbling cameras and concise editing, Stockwell conveys the disorientation that surfers must feel when they get hit. My impression is that you can't tell which way is up or how long the wave will last as it crashes over you. Even the less dramatic surfing footage is fun. There are some very skilled athletes shown here.

For me, it's always fun to absorb information about something new, so I responded to that aspect of the film. But I liked the people, too, and I don't think all the technical expertise would matter if the human element wasn't there. Anne Marie is a solid character; she feels the tug of being responsible to her talent as well being responsible for her kid sister. She has a dream that she's afraid to reach for, even though she wants it desperately. Kate Bosworth (who might just become a big star after this picture) brings all of this out in a performance that is sympathetic without being manipulative. She has nice moments with Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious), who gives another strong performance as a feisty character. Eden knows what Anne Marie is capable of and she's not afraid to let her thoughts be known.

There have been other movies about surfing and about surf girls (I remember a dreadful 80s movie called North Shore). This one works better because it takes the sport - and its practitioners - seriously, whereas most of the others existed simply to show women in bikinis. Blue Crush has that element too, for those who are interested. If that's all you care about, though, you'll be missing out on a really entertaining, enlightening look at the surf scene. Summer may be almost over, but Blue Crush is still a terrific summer movie.

( out of four)

Blue Crush is rated PG-13 for sexual content, teen partying, language and a fight. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.

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