One of the first sounds introduced in the comedy "Surfer, Dude" is a bongo. I couldn't dream of a more ideal way to start off a Matthew McConaughey vanity film than with a light bongo beat, guaranteeing the picture holds 100% McConaugheyness and that, at some point, the actor was nude during the scoring session. I only wish the finished product was as amusing as the behind-the-scenes pot-fueled merriment I imagine took place during production.
A top surfer, Steve Addington (Matthew McConaughey) lives by his own whims, surviving on a steady stream of marijuana, endorsement checks, and perfect Malibu waves. When a ruthless surf mogul (Jeffrey Nordling) purchases Steve's contract, he demands the laid back surf star to join a reality show and sign away his likeness and surfboard moves for a virtual reality video game. Steve, not used to being bullied, declines, retreating to his comfort zone on the beach with pals and his manager (Woody Harrelson). When the professional heat is turned up and the money stops coming in, Steve loses his balance with nature, hoping a fast from his vices will help him discover the right path and bring back the waves that have stopped flowing for the summer.
"Surfer, Dude" lives up its title. This is a relaxed comedy, steeped in meaty trails of smoke, ideal blue waves, and "bummer, bra" themes of selling out to the man. Originating from McConaughey's production company, the picture is a love letter to its star, parading the actor around shirtless, turning him into a heroic surf legend, and making the character a sex magnet. I can see why McConaughey spent the better part of a decade trying to make the film.
It's a sluggish performance from McConaughey here, who revels in the baked luster of Steve (Willie Nelson cameos as his drug dealer), stumbling around the film falling into misadventures with producers, groupies, and his brotherhood of surfers. With lengthy frizzy blonde hair, a gym-rat body tanned to the perfect shade of Southern Californian brown, and sporting a genuine grin when waves approach, it's hard to argue the actor's appearance. The entertainment value of the performance I'm less comfortable with; it's an acting effort that spends too much screentime in a distanced, wildly unfunny coma, making it impossible to emotionally connect to Steve and his dreams of the unmolested surfer lifestyle.
It's something of a shock to read that four writers are credited to the screenplay, which has all the dramatic depth of a McDonald's training video. Nordling is obnoxious and infuriatingly one-dimensional in the villain role, perhaps trying to lampoon the agents in his own experience, but trying way too hard to land the smarm. The plot itself also misfires as a satire of media ubiquity, with cameras capturing Steve's every move for a shady "Surf TV" reality show in the vein of "Big Brother," but the jabs are toothless, and worse, outdated. The virtual reality game angle (complete with "Johnny Mnemonic" goggles) is another unwise concept that turns matters into a cartoon instead of something tangible to believe in.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), "Surfer, Dude" doesn't really hold any hard visual angles within the cinematography, with the DVD visual experience left to sort through the rampant post-production color tinkering. The visual scheme remains in an annoying pitch of overstatement, but the DVD doesn't fall behind, maintaining strong picture and color detail, with adequate black levels.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix works best during outdoor sequences, especially the aquatic environments, where the surround channels envelope the listener with beach serenity. The rest of the mix sticks to the basics, separating dialogue and musical selections to satisfaction, never overwhelming the film.
English for the Deaf & Hearing Impaired and Spanish subtitles are included.
A feature-length audio commentary with producer/star Matthew McConaughey rides the line of semi-informative and incredibly tedious. Leading with his laid back charms, McConaughey sounds more like a director when he discusses production challenges, performances, and cinematographic intent, imparting valuable anecdotes on the making of "Surfer, Dude." The rest of the track is plagued by dead spots or the actor audibly admiring his own work, wasting opportunities left and right to lend the viewer a richer understanding of the film's creation.
Clearly, McConaughey adores his own film (he often suggests Addington as some mythical cinematic character), and his affection is felt immediately, but the track is an uneven affair, perhaps an inch too sluggish for the average fan.
"Surfer, Dude: The Real Story" (24:47) is a wonderful featurette centered on the effort of McConaughey and his J.K. Livin' production company to get the film in front of the cameras. Nicely warts-and-all (the casting sequence is refreshingly candid), with strong participation from the cast and crew, the mini-doc is satisfying even with an all-too-brief running time.
"Deleted Scenes" (11:18) is really nothing more than a collection of foul character bites, obviously trimmed to keep the film's high fat content down. There's nothing here to get excited about.
"The Complete 'Surfer, Dude' 12-Webisode Series" (24:42) compiles the online BTS series into one big batch of yammering. Acting like the evil twin of the "Real Story" featurette, the webisodes are shallow and often intolerable, capturing the cast and crew in full "entertain the cameraman" mode.
A Theatrical Trailer has been included on this DVD, along with peeks at "Dead Space: Downfall," "Traitor," and "Righteous Kill."
"Surfer, Dude" doesn't click as a satire or a broadly painted comedy, hoping to its make sun-baked principles something to embrace, but the directorial fog renders the film a listless muddle. Reaching for a drowsy consistency, McConaughey becomes lost inside his own motion picture, and while I can appreciate the party atmosphere, luscious waves, and aim to live life on the simplest of terms, the picture needed a stronger script and a more vibrant edge to find its true inner dude.
For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com