How do you make a stoner comedy and forget the comedy? Having watched both Surfer, Dude and the DVD’s special features, my guess would have something to do with the cast and crew sampling the ganja used as set dressing a bit too often and succumbing to short term memory loss.
Surfer, Dude is about Steve Addington (Matthew McConaughey), a surfing legend who returns to California after riding waves all around the world. He’s looking for a relaxing summer of fun in the Malibu sun, but instead finds himself in an existential crisis when the entire coastline goes flat. Adding to his dilemma, his corporate sponsorship has been bought out by a surfer-turned-entrepreneur ass Eddie Zarno (Jeffrey Nordling) who’s cajoling him into participating in a surfer themed reality show and pushing a virtual surfing headset. He’s joined on his quest for crests and inner peace by Woody Harrelson as his manager, Scott Glenn as his surf sensei, and Willy Nelson as his goat herder/drug dealer. That probably makes it sound funnier than it actually is.
There are exactly two laughs in the movie, which is a bit low by my definition of a comedy. The first comes when Addington is confronted at the airport by some suspicious security agents. He befuddles and entertains them (and the viewer) with a dose of relaxed, carefree surfer-speak as he stands there shirtless, barefoot, and smiling. The second occurs when he comes face to face with a digital fish tank. It’s a one-line joke that McConaughey delivers perfectly… and then much like the waves, the laughs disappear.
Part of Surfer, Dude‘s problem is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It’s not a comedy, obviously. It’s not a surf movie either, as there’s very little actual surfing on display… not even a climactic surf-off at the Pipemasters or wave-battle at Tubular Rasa with Addington’s arch-nemesis, Lupe La Rosa. Isn’t that a staple of surf movies from North Shore to Blue Crush? There is a brief stretch at the reality show house filled with sexy, bikini-clad (and often unclad) girls, which is admittedly nice, but if perfectly shaped boobs are a movie’s highlight… well okay, there’s nothing actually wrong with that. The only consistency to be found in the movie is in the high quantity of weed usage, weed jokes, weed references, etc. There’s a target audience for that I’m sure… McConaughey himself starred in the much funnier Dazed and Confused, but I would think even those viewers would want some humor with their hemp.
So what is Surfer, Dude? It’s a pot party produced by McConaughey’s own company, j.k. livin productions (as in, ‘just keep livin’). An excuse for the man to recreate his infamous naked bongo experience onscreen (swapping out the bongos for a didgeridoo of course). A convoluted plot in what should have been a simple comedy. And a waste of 87 minutes for anyone not interested in watching McConaughey walk around in the same pair of board shorts for the entire movie, with a glazed, almost comatose look in his eyes. It also came close (and by ‘close’ I mean nowhere’s near) to being an interesting exploration of one man’s search for meaning in his relationship with others, himself, and Mother Earth when the only thing he loves is taken away and twisted into a merchandising opportunity. It’s too bad too, because the movie sets up the possibilities early on with a Addington as a popular surfer whose love for the sport outweighs all the material gains he acquires from it. When the one-two punch of bad weather and bad business hits the movie is primed to explore a character suddenly adrift in an unfamiliar world, but instead, Surfer, Dude gets lost in drugs and hippie wisdom and leaves the viewer high and dry.
The DVD’s special features include a series of behind the scenes webisodes, a short making-of doc, and commentary from McConaughey. The features actually provide as many laughs as the movie itself. Director S.R. Bindler explains how Surfer, Dude has been in development for seven years. Hilarious, and technically only one laugh, but it lasted longer than the other two combined. Surfer, Dude released today from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
The Upside: short running time; McConaughey is believable as a surfer dude; some very nice boobies on display; a pro-environmental message; for the ladies (and Cole Abaius), McConaughey is shirtless for the entire movie
The Downside: running time not short enough; comedies should be funny, this movie is not; nothing really happens; aimless script; Scott Glenn seems really uncomfortable with his dialogue