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More of a bummer than a stunner

June 13, 2007|By REEL CRITIC

If you happen to hang 10 and catch the "Surf's Up" fever while looking for some gnarly animated entertainment, you'll likely end up calling this a big bummer. This one isn't very chillin' or thrillin.' Maybe unfulfillin' is more appropriate.

The premise is the making of a documentary about surfing superstar Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf), and how he rode the big wave to penguin prominence and international acclaim. Cody hails from the Antarctic, where he is mocked for spending his free time pursuing his ambition. His mom loves him, even if she doesn't understand him, and his older brother just wants to make his life difficult. He's inspired by a visit from his idol, Big Z (Jeff Bridges), a legend to all surfing penguins.

Big Z is the ultimate champion until he loses a race to Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader) and is presumed to have died. Cody aspires to be part of the Big Z Memorial competition and finally gets his chance when a talent scout named Mikey Abromowitz (Mario Cantone) brings him to Pen Gu Island, where he meets the contest's mercurial promoter, Reggie Belafonte (James Woods) and becomes friends with a chicken named Joe (Jon Heder).


Cody has the dream but not the drive. He meets a mysterious, burned-out surfer called The Geek, who's past his prime but willing to help Cody learn what it takes to be a contender. The fetching Lani (Zooey Deschanel) sets Cody's wings flapping as he discovers the joy of mutual attraction and he works toward his goal.

For a movie that is all about competition and action, the pace is surprisingly slow and the animation nothing special. While the kids in the audience liked the visual gags and laughed in many spots, there was little for their parents to enjoy.

In recent years, animated filmmakers have realized the need to include double entendres and other sophisticated comedy elements to amuse adults. Naming Cody's hometown "Shiverpool" is as good as it gets. Punctuated infrequently with weak jokes, the humor quotient was sorely lacking, with the exception of Reggie obviously mocking Don King's infamous and outrageous hair.

The voices were done well and the actors made their characters believable, considering the material they were given. While all were appropriately cast, no one was outstanding and Cantone seemed to be vainly channeling the spirit of Gilbert Gottfried's histrionic portrayal of Iago from "Aladdin" many years ago.

But making a kid's movie means we must have a message. "Never give up. Find a way," is the one here. Great words to inspire, but their time would have been more productive if the people in charge had managed to find a way to make a better film. The surf may be up, but my thumb is not.

  • PHILLIP HAIN is a Glendale resident and native Californian who has never been on a surfboard.

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