Catch a Wave
Fitting for a film that espouses surfer philosophy of peace and harmony between man and nature, "green" activists Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson co-star alongside actor and producer Matthew McConaughey in Surfer, Dude. And despite its budget of six million dollars that looks as though it was spent on lavish location shoots and production design, you can bet that the filmmakers saved an awful lot of "green" when it came to the costume department. After all, it does star the incessantly topless McConaughey and for those of you who feel that seeing the blonde haired Texan shirtless only a few times per year just isn't quite enough-- rest assured you can get your fix in Dude which finds him fittingly "surf ready" (a.k.a. nearly nude) at all times.
Yet, far be it for the 100% male producers, screenwriters, cinematographer and director not to offer up some beach bunnies as well. For, have no fear, fellas-- silicone enhanced cleavage and topless women abound in the laid-back surf culture depicted in documentarian turned feature filmmaker S.R. Bindler's latest film.
A self-described "seven year labor of love," spearheaded by McConaughey and some of his oldest friends-- fans can consider both the real-life "naked bongo" arrest and the endless scenes of the actor shirtless (with little prompting) in previous films like Fool's Gold, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch all rehearsal for the actor to fully get into the role of "longboarding soul surfer" and near full-time stoner Steve Addington.
The oft-cited "nature boy" of the sport-- shortly into the film, "Add" returns from an international trip surfing around the world back to a very different Malibu which is trying to cash in on riders who just love to catch a wave. With his clueless and bong-happy manager Jack (a hilarious Woody Harrelson) trying to talk some sense into the "mind open, heart enlarged, soul receptive" mantra spouting zen-like Add that they need to begin to "fertilize the money tree so it can keep growing," Add reluctantly listens to a pitch from retired surfer turned sell-out Eddie Zarno (Jeffrey Nordling).
Now the owner of Add's contract and eager to cut off his expense account if the laid-back surfer won't bend to his well, Zarno tries to force Addington to join his Cinemax styled MTV's The Real World meets Big Brother beach-house reality show and take part in a virtual reality video game to introduce "land-locked kids" in Kansas to both surfing and the digital revolution.
Angered by the prospect to become "some ass-clown in a green room," since by trade he tells others (including a hilarious introduction to airport security in the film's beginning) that he's "a surfer, dude," Add declines only to find himself hard up for cash and waves when there's a surf-drought and Malibu's waters go surf-less for roughly two months.
Building a relationship with Alexi Gilmore's Danni-- a beautiful and brainy East Coast businesswoman (whom Add of course simply dubs "East Coast") whose Master's Degree smarts and tech savvy kick in far too late upon discovering Zarno's a first-class sleaze-- Add, Danni, Jack, and his friends (Willie Nelson and Scott Glenn) help set him back on the right course back to surfing bliss.
While it's far more enjoyable than Fool's Gold on the "McConaughey Meter," Dude is bogged down by a ludicrously simplistic plot that inexplicably moved through countless drafts and four writers who toyed with it over the course of nearly a decade, making McConaughey's making-of-featurette confession that "this has been the most fulfilling creative experience I've ever had-- ever-- hands down," especially heartbreaking.
Additionally, it's curiously devoid of the actor's usual charm. And while this could've been because of the demands of the shoot and his having to wear numerous hats (and very few shirts) in getting the film made as we discover in the twenty-two minute behind-the-scenes documentary "Surfer, Dude, The Real Story" included on the Blu-ray disc, I was also left wondering if it was perhaps because of the poorly written characterization which doesn't give him an arc that justifies its eighty-five minute running time. Essentially-- while great as a one-sentence joke or a guaranteed laugh in a pitch room to hear about stoner surf gurus played by Nelson, Harrelson, and McConaughey-- as a project, Dude seems as though it would've worked best as a killer SNL skit.
Although he tries his damndest and he really manages to sell the persona-- mostly Addington feels like a repeatedly photo-copied and washed out hodgepodge of McConaughey's memorable character from Dazed and Confused blended with Sean Penn's stoner Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Jeff Bridges' The Dude from The Big Lebowski.
While admittedly, as a fan of both surf documentaries and classic cheesy surf films I did get a bigger kick out of it than most reviewers, overall Surfer, Dude seemed like it was desperate in need of more waves, humor, laughs, and the same easy-going, affable, and (cough) less pot-addled characters he always nails in even the smallest of roles such as recently playing Ben Stiller's agent in Tropic Thunder. Likewise it made me miss his stellar and often overlooked dramatic work in films like A Time to Kill, Frailty, Lonestar, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, The Newton Boys, Amistad, and We Are Marshall.
Despite this-- for his fans, it's definitely worth a look and I'd rather watch a Surfer, Dude marathon over one additional screening of Fool's Gold and for that I do have to give major credit to a great part of the film's success in its beautiful lush near '70s look from masterful cinematographer Elliot Davis (Out of Sight, Twilight, I Am Sam). Continuing his awe-inspiring talent by improving upon lackluster material, in the past Davis has also managed to elevate B-movies such as Bronwen Hughes' Sandra Bullock/Ben Affleck Rom-Com Forces of Nature, John Schlesigner's Madonna/Rupert Everett vehicle The Next Best Thing, and Charles Herman-Wurmfeld's Reese Witherspoon sequel Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde.
Although it will also be released on DVD, surf fans or cinematography buffs and those with Blu capabilities who haven't been scared off from the star post-Fool's Gold or the number of harsh Dude reviews, Blu-ray is the ultimate way to appreciate Davis's gorgeous work. And Anchor Bay Entertainment's superb 2-disc set (although oddly misspelled "2-Disk Special Edition") also includes a digital copy of the film available for compatible PCs, deleted scenes, feature commentary from McConaughey, the theatrical trailer, as well as the complete uncensored 12-Webside Surfer, Dude.
Likewise, on a Blu-ray disc side-note: be sure to watch the previews before the film as Werner Herzog and Woody Harrelson show off their comedic improvisational skills in Zak Penn's uproarious The Grand and in one of the most unspeakably politically incorrect yet hilarious trailers of 2008 for the Eva Longoria-Parker and Jason Biggs comedy Lower Learning, also available from Anchor Bay.
And for a double-feature of "missed it at the multiplex" films featuring some of the Tropic Thunder cast, renters of Surfer, Dude should also pick up the far superior, underrated comic gem Hamlet 2, starring Steve Coogan which sneaked onto shelves last week.