Rated PG, 85 min. Directed by Ash Brannon, Chris Buck. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, Jon Heder, James Woods, Diedrich Bader.
While the cartoon penguins of Surf's Up “hang six” and persevere (“Find a way ’cause that’s what winners do”), Bridges re-creates the "Dude.” Four screenwriters are credited on this animated avian surf epic, which is most alive when its script calls for radio-friendly pop hits accompanying beauty footage of CGI waves. There’s nothing terribly wrong with Surf’s Up, except maybe the part where one character calls another a “dirty trash can full of poop.” But the movie isn’t terribly robust, either. It provides a blandly determined surfer hero (teen titan LaBeouf), a cute girl lifeguard (Deschanel), and Chicken Joe (Heder), a Spicoli-esque sidekick who gets all the laughs. There’s a showboating villain (Bader) who knocks kids off their boards, training montages, and a contest – in the end, nothing outside the summer-movie formula and nothing to suggest the artisanship of four writers. The film’s nearly all-bird world is pleasantly amusing – I liked Mario Cantone as a twitchy little sandpiper – and its mockumentary motif affords some laughs for parents, but really the movie is as evanescent as sea foam. Greater effort has been directed toward its marine visuals, which are truly lovely but should support a stronger story and more memorable characterizations. My 5-year-old companion had been wildly excited by the film’s previews but, upon seeing it, opined, “This movie is almost as long as Cars.” This was not a compliment. The stoner jokes and cameos by surf greats (Rob Machado, Kelly Slater) whizzed over his head yet amused the adults only fleetingly, though he cracked up when a big penguin gave a little penguin a golden shower to heal a stingray wound. Elsewhere in the film, characters go sledding in a volcano – an action set-piece that left us befuddled. Wasn’t it awfully hot in there for a penguin? And full of poisonous gases? No matter.
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