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Surfing Safari

Bruce Brown goes back to the beach to hang ten, again

If you know what "gank" means, you're the target audience for Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer II. As its title suggests, this movie is a sequel to The Endless Summer, Brown's modest 1964 film celebrating the then-cult phenomenon of surfing. The original, produced for $50,000 with a single wind-up 16-millimeter camera, was one of the top ten grossing films of the year. It went on to earn more than $30 million worldwide and did much to expand the popularity of the burgeoning sport beyond its home bases of Hawaii and Southern California.

A million-dollar budget, state-of-the-art technology, 35-millimeter equipment and a crew of 12 are good enough reasons, I suppose, to return to the surf, but the fact that I have no idea why now, on the first film's 30th anniversary -- as opposed to, say, the 25th -- probably makes me a Barney. Not the purple dinosaur, mind you: "Barney" is surfer lingo for a beginner. (Incidentally, a "gank" is someone who takes your wave. The only reason I can boast of having these terms in my working vocabulary is that the press kit provided a glossary, called "Surfinitions," for the landlocked among us.)

In The Endless Summer, Brown followed a pair of wholesome young dudes around the world on a quest for the so-called perfect wave. But the plot didn't really matter. It was just a cheerfully trifling excuse to show the audience impressive surfing in stunning locales. The Endless Summer II continues in its predecessor's fun assertion that it's always summertime somewhere, and any excuse will do to follow the sun. So Summer II has fresh-faced Robert "Wingnut" Weaver and Patrick O'Connell -- typed in the film's character-development shorthand as the brown-haired guy with a long board (Weaver) and the blond with a short one (O'Connell) -- retrace their predecessors' nomadic travels to the beaches of Australia, South Africa, Costa Rica, France, Indonesia, Fiji, Hawaii and Alaska.

These sites are beautiful in a National Geographic sort of way. And the surfing scenes are frequently a marvel, bringing us much closer to the action than the ones in the original film did. We're taken inside, underneath and on top of waves that either rise to such biblical heights that seemingly only dolphins can navigate them or funnel off into tubes so narrow that the geometric force and air pressure inside them spit the surfers out the end. We are shown how, with such innovations as short boards, boogie boards and skim boards, surfing has become more diversified and skillful, filled with stunts and precision moves. Mention is also made of surfing's emergent professional tour and its reigning superstars. The surfers are "stoked" (really happy) when they're "ripping" (excelling on the board).

Yet despite the stunning seasides and the views of surfers riding waves that break onto reefs covered by shallow pools of water, the action becomes repetitive, losing its excitement and threatening to become a Wide World of Sports greatest hits video. It may indeed be true that no two waves are the same, but we don't need to see hundreds of waves to prove that. By the film's end, only surfing devotees won't have glanced at their watches.

Or minded the hokey story Brown has concocted. Narrating this film as he did the original, in a Southern California-style teenage cool, Brown puts his two surfers in situations that are at once cutesy and corny. In France, his California naifs are shocked that the entree they ordered from a menu they can't read is snails; in Alaska, they giggle as they run from curious bears that, shoving their snouts along abandoned boards, appear to want to hang ten; in Australia, a local surfing celebrity takes them on a series of adventures much milder than Brown would have us believe. The lame jokes are of the cash-machine-fiasco variety; danger is a dune buggy stalled momentarily in the den of some playful lions. At times, the movie also borders on the offensive. For instance, in a South African sequence a black man is referred to as the world's only Zulu surfer, while at a topless beach "zoomers" become the topic of the moment.

But perhaps it's not right to quibble with a movie innocent enough to have dogs surfing or to play "Wipe Out" on cue. You will have to see the film itself to find out about the gnarly man-made surfing park in Texas.

Bruce Brown's The Endless Summer II.
Directed by Bruce Brown. With Robert "Wingnut" Weaver and Patrick O'Connell.

Rated PG.
100 minutes.

 
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