Surfer, Dude

(2008) * 1/2 R
86 min. Anchor Bay Entertainment. Director: Rob Bindler. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Willie Nelson, K. D. Aubert (II), Ramon Rodriguez, Alexie Gilmore.

/content/films/3285/1.jpgThe idealistic comedy Surfer, Dude looks at the world from the very narrow perspective of a professional beach bum. Though the story concerns a turn of bad luck for "soul surfer" Steve Addington, the character's ability to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle doing exactly what he wants to do is good fortune shared by the man who plays him: Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey expresses gratitude and knows he's lucky, but Surfer, Dude would be more credible if it dialed up its satire about a guy who isn't so self-aware about his unique situation.

Instead, Surfer, Dude is a celebration of unrealistic lifestyles, which makes it exactly the wrong film for our times (despite Steve's sentiment "Love and waves--that's what we need in these dark days"). Addington has coasted for years on the largess of Ben and Barry, the sponsors who keep him in board shorts and surfboards. But when Ben and Barry sell their contracts to surf impresario Eddie Zarno (Jeffrey Nordling of Once and Again), the thoughtless Addington must give pause to his hedonism to consider which side his bread is buttered on. In exchange for maintaining Addington's lifestyle, Zarno wants the surfing legend to move into Zarno's reality-show house and submit to motion-capture for a video game. The former holds no interest for Addington, and the "capture" amounts to stealing Addington's soul.

With financial pressure mounting from his manager (Woody Harrelson) and his entourage (Zachary Knighton, Todd Stashwick, and Nathan Phillips), Addington is staring down a crisis, one that corresponds to a record-breaking absence of waves. This sudden metaphorical manifestation causes Addington to lose his mojo, but he gets support from an old mentor (Scott Glenn) and a new flame (Alexie Gilmore) despite his juvenile inability to face reality. "I just want to surf. Keep the stoke, day to day," Steve insists. Nice work if you can get it, and the fact that Addington has his problems solved for him by others in the end underlines the film's narrative failure. He may be admirable for his purity, but he's immature and helplessly unable to change.

Zarno's explanation "You're in advertising. Ben and Barry never paid you to surf" is a plain statement of fact, but Zarno's ruthless business instincts and willingness to play dirty when Steve won't play along make Zarno the villain. In opposition to Steve's pie-in-the-sky naivete, Zarno has his own crazy attitude: "we own his image, and image is reality, so we own his reality." What makes Addington moderately heroic is his insistence on integrity--he will not compromise his values, though he is sorely tempted when his "bros" begin to suffer along with him. In the end, the film comes full circle to conclude there's a way to conduct business without sacrificing personal values (duh) and without doing any work (ummm...).

All of the business philosophy gives a bit of body to a movie that's really about hanging out, catching waves, and smoking weed (beside Harrelson, Willie Nelson is a welcome presence in a couple of scenes as Addington's dealer). The acting and production values are good all around, and it's nice to see a star of McConaughey's brightness giving back to those around him by producing a labor-of-love project amongst friends, misbegotten though it might be. Fans of the surf ouevre will probably enjoy Surfer, Dude with a joint in hand: a number of topless women and the only-ever-topless McConaughey add value for respective viewers. Maybe this movie understands business after all.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 12/30/2008

Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Anchor Bay pleases fans of sun, surf, and Matthew McConaughey with a special edition of Surfer, Dude on Blu-ray. The image is clean and highly detailed, with a sunny tint that seems to replicate the filmmaker's intention. Though not many demands are placed on it, a definitive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix also comes home on Blu-ray.

Further satisfying the core audience, the disc includes a kick-back audio commentary by producer-star McConaughey. There's a frank, all-access making-of featurette, "Surfer, Dude: The Real Story" (24:48, SD), that includes audition and onset footage, as well as comments from nearly all of the cast and crew. The doc covers script development, casting dramas, and McConaughey's involvement. Perhaps because he was too busy directing when the featurette camera rolled, the one person least heard from is director S.R. Bindler. You'll also find "Deleted Scenes" (11:17, SD), "The Complete Surfer, Dude: Behind the Scenes Webisode Series" (24:35), the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:32, HD) and a BD Live hookup for exclusive online content from Anchor Bay.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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