MOVIE REVIEW: Surf's Up
I have to admit, when I first heard the premise of SURF'S UP (surfing penguins? really?), the stupidity of it almost gave me a migraine. But I guess if Hollywood can get away with tap dancing penguins (*cough* HAPPY FEET *cough*), they can get away with anything.
Unlike HAPPY FEET though, at least the filmmakers behind SURF'S UP seem to be perfectly aware of how ridiculous their storyline is. During the opening sequence, there's a montage of historical artwork and archival footage that demonstrates the evolution of "penguin surfing" throughout time. It's a scene that will probably leave children blank-faced, but will have adults in stitches.
The movie continues forward with the documentary angle, seemingly poking brief fun at MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, and then ultimately moving forward into more MTV territory, riffing on rock music-filled surfing documentaries. To say the film's a mockumentary would be accurate, but a better description would be calling it a feature length version of the faux bloopers as seen in many of the Pixar films. In terms of laughs, it meets up to that standard as well. When the actual storyline kicks in, however, that's when the problems start.
The documentary gimmick makes the first half of the movie fun and interesting, but it's not exactly compelling enough in the way a family film should be. Because of this, the movie eventually downplays the documentary angle to make way for the story. Unfortunately, the plot is exactly as generic and bland as every other underdog tale that Hollywood keeps crapping out. You've got your stock love interest (voiced by Zooey Deschanel), your stock villain (voiced by Diedrich Bader, who admittedly gets a couple of hilarious moments), your stock dopey sidekick (voiced by Jon Heder), and your stock mentor (voiced by Jeff Bridged) who needs to teach our stock protagonist (voiced by Shia LaBeouf) a thing or two about stock Hollywood messages. (Yeah, stock. Rhymes with cock. Remember that; it's what this movie's story sucks.)
Regardless of this, kids should still have a blast with the many goofy characters being tossed onto the screen (there's a tiny twittering bird voiced by Mario Cantone, an in-your-face show announcer voiced by James Woods, a bunch of funny children penguins, etc.). The only disappointment in the character department concerns Chicken Joe. In a movie where every character is comical, you'd think the actual designated comic relief would be a lot funnier. Instead, he feels more like filler – just an instigator of a bunch of random silly gags used to stretch out the running time (none of which are particularly funny, or even unfunny for that matter).
Meanwhile, the standout character is the one that should've been the least interesting – Shia's large laidback mentor. But thanks to perfect voice acting by Jeff Bridges (in Dude-mode), he ends up being the only one with any real heart. And truth be told, that's something noticeable lacking in the rest of the film.
The filmmakers were apparently too busy creating a lush tropical paradise and beautiful CGI waves to bother with giving their film a soul. Who needs a soul though, when you have animation that looks this good? You probably can't tell from the trailer, but the CGI here is outstanding. Certain aspects are much more cartoony than, say, the photo realistic approach to HAPPY FEET, but it still looks amazing in its own right. Then again, having amazing visuals in a computer generated film seems almost like a given by this point. It's actually more rare to have a CGI film that looks bad.
At least the film's got the humor down pat as well, with everything being consistently funny and oftentimes hilarious. When the movie isn't busy giving adults something clever/cute/fun to enjoy, it makes sure to keep the kids laughing with your standard array of fart and feces humor (at one point even involving an entire pool of glow-worm poo). Those gags had me rolling my eyes, but I was grateful that the filmmakers didn't rely on mindless pop culture references. I think we've seen enough of that from the SHREK films.
The overall experience of SURF'S UP may not be one of complete satisfaction (due to the unbearably clichéd story), but thanks to its numerous hilarious moments and fun documentary gimmick, it still manages to beat out a lot of the other non-Pixar CGI films. That's perfectly good enough for me.
6 out of 10
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