Ian McCormack wants people to know he’s heard the voice of God. The New Zealand native was an avowed atheist when, as a young man in the early 1980s, he was stung by deadly jellyfish off the coast of Mauritius and pronounced dead. But he says he awoke with a new outlook after following the light and striking a deal with the man upstairs. And, decades later, he’s a pastor in London proselytizing Christian rebirth.
“The Perfect Wave” is based on the story he’s told to millions, although it’s really more of a surf movie, until, abruptly, it becomes a spiritual one. The first three-quarters of the drama follows Ian (played by Scott Eastwood, son of Clint) as he hopscotches around the world — Australia, Indonesia, Africa — in search of big waves. He’s painted as a somewhat selfish 24-year-old, especially compared to his devout parents and brother. When he suddenly sells his car and tells his mother (Cheryl Ladd) he’s taking a dream trip, she has a bad feeling. And since she often has conversations with God, her premonition seems to have credence.
But before her hunch can play out, we’re treated to arresting images from some of the world’s most spectacular beaches. Unfortunately, the dialogue and acting aren’t quite as impressive. This is director Bruce Macdonald’s first feature, and the cast is made up mostly of newbies, which is clear. The dialogue, which is somewhat stilted in the first place, often sounds like it’s being read straight from the script. Some of the veteran actors manage to build rapport, including Ladd and Patrick Lyster, who plays Ian’s father. But even they have to contend with the lack of character development.
In Indonesia, Ian meets Annabel (Rachel Hendrix), and they fall in love immediately. Yet we barely get to see them speak to each other beyond her asking, “So, what do you think of Indo?” And him replying, “I like it a lot.” Their courtship is told through a medley of trite visuals. He gives her a piggyback ride through a field of flowers and they walk along the beach hand in hand; they eat ice cream and feed seals. When things start to go downhill, it’s hard to muster the strength to care, because what was their relationship about anyway? No matter, the image of a cloud passing in front of the sun and sad music are supposed to put us in the right frame of mind. The music also becomes a distraction during Ian’s harrowing jellyfish incident, when it sounds like it’s been ripped from the climax of an action movie.
The movie’s transition from surfer flick to a story about faith is swift and not particularly smooth. When Ian sees his surf buddies for the first time after his accident, he tells them about his otherworldly experience, and one of them immediately downloads the Bible on his tablet, which feels heavy-handed to say the least.
“The Perfect Wave” is nice to look at, and evangelical Christian moviegoers will no doubt appreciate a family-friendly movie with a message they can endorse. But it’s going to take more than pretty pictures to convert doubters.
Unrated. At AMC Hoffman Center 22. Contains nothing objectionable. 94 minutes.