'Blue Crush': Surf's Up

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 16, 2002

IT HAS been quite some time since I've seen crashing waves used ¿ without irony ¿ as a metaphor for sex, but there it was in "Blue Crush," a wet and wild paean to the subculture of female surfers. Zoom in for the open-mouthed kiss, stay tight on the clinch, cut away to a shot of roaring surf, aaand it's back to the pan across morning sunlight falling on rumpled bed linens.

The cinematic shorthand for nookie has been around since God was a boy, but you know what? "Blue Crush" gets away with it. That's because there's so much H2O in this film, my notes had mildew on them the next day. According to the production notes, 40 percent of "Blue Crush" was filmed on the water, and you're going to be grateful it was.

With eye-boggling footage of 20-foot-tall waves closing around you like a fist ¿ creating the much-sought-after "pipe" that surfers shoot through ¿ "Blue Crush" does for watersports what IMAX's "To Fly" did for being airborne. It makes the vicarious visceral, taking you out of your cushioned seat and throwing you into the middle of a series of wall-high breakers that have the ability to snap your board ¿ or your neck ¿ on the coral reefs that line the ocean floor.

What makes this virtual-reality ride so special is that your guides are not some tattooed, muscle-bound surf rats in sun-bleached board shorts but a trio of cute young women. Despite the string bikinis, "Blue Crush" has a straight-faced story to tell, and formulaic though it may be, it's one of righteous girl power.

From their shack on the Oahu beach, roommates Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake) work just enough to pay for rent, electricity and food. The rest of the time, they're on the waves, preparing Anne Marie for the upcoming Pipe Masters, a surfing contest she has been invited to participate in thanks to her reputation as a one-time junior champion.

But when Anne Marie loses her job as a maid at a posh hotel, she's forced to give surfing lessons to a group of vacationing football players, including quarterback Matt (Matthew Davis), a dreamboat who quickly starts to distract our heroine from her training.

Top it off with the fact that Anne Marie is stuck raising her hellion younger sister (Mika Boorem) since their mother ran off to Vegas, and toss in a paralyzing fear (thanks to Anne Marie's near-drowning in competition three years ago), and you've got some serious pressure. Oh, and never mind that her chosen field is a bastion of testosterone (after all, the competition's not called "Pipe Mistresses," is it?).

"Blue Crush" works on two levels. First, it's a pure celebration of riding the waves. It's in love with hydraulics. With the assistance of water camera operator Don King, director John Stockwell (a surfing aficionado who co-wrote the script with Lizzy Weiss, based on literary journalist Susan Orlean's Outside magazine article "Surf Girls of Maui") jumps on top of and under the ocean to make his point. Second, "Blue Crush" is a clear-eyed portrait of the unique kind of power that women possess, a power that shows us that victory doesn't always mean vanquishing someone else.

Either way, it's thrilling.

BLUE CRUSH (PG-13, 104 minutes) ¿ Contains frequent use of a four-letter word, a fistfight, implied sexuality, unsafe driving and life-threatening watersports. Area theaters.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company