Several years ago my brother was working for a production company and a screenplay came across his desk titled, Surfer, Dude. It was to star Matthew McConaughey. He had good things to say about it, and even compared it to The Big Lebowski. Somewhere between the initial, submitted draft and final production, something clearly went horribly wrong.
In Surfer, Dude, McConaughey stars as Steve Addington, one of the best surfer's alive. Living in California, he spends his days smoking weed, having sex with beautiful women and hitting the waves. He lives for the waves. But one day, the waves go away, seemingly never to return. A video game company has moved in nearby, led by former surfer Eddie Zarno (Jeffrey Nordling), and is finalizing work on a virtual reality surfing game. The game is pretty realistic, but it's missing that special touch: that of a world-class surfer. Eddie sets out to enlist Steve, who, despite needing money desperately, is horrified at the prospect of replacing real surfing with a pair of goggles and a balancing board. What ensues is a cat-and-game mouse as Eddie attempts to lure Steve in, going as far as to destroy Steve's reputation.
Big Lebowski Surfer, Dude is not. McConaughey is certainly built for the role, and while he plays it cool in the movie, his character is not that cool. He's just a stoned surfboarder, a character we've seen dozens of times before. He's likable enough, but interesting enough to be the lead character? No. Nordling plays a villain you love to hate, and Alexie Gilmore turns in a fine performance as the smart, headstrong woman who falls for Steve. But the acting doesn't make up for a lack of unique storytelling.
Very little of interest happens in Surfer, Dude. It's basically a collage of scenes where Steve and his friends, including tripped-out manager Woody Harrelson, talk in drawn-out language about simple, unremarkable things. The movie revolves around the threat of the virtual reality game, and yet its presence seems completely disjointed with the rest of the movie. Furthermore, director S.R. Bindler and writers Mark Gustawes and Cory Van Dyke seem uncommitted as to what the movie is supposed to be about; is it about Steve versus an evil executive, or Steve and his New Yorker lady friend? Neither idea is fully fleshed out; in other words, both premises are as half-baked as Steve.
The relationship between Gilmore's character and Steve could have been interesting, but as is it's the typical woman-falling-for-someone-she'd-have-no-interest-in-in-a-million-years scenario. They don't get enough on-screen time together where their relationship even makes sense; she seems to fall for him just like that, with little or no conflict whatsoever.
In all fairness, there are some entertaining scenes and moments, and overall Surfer, Dude is perfectly tolerable. But there's so little substance here that it's incredibly hard to actually get something out of it and impossible to recommend. There's a reason why Surfer, Dude never got a wide release.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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