'Endless Summer II' is a wipeout

June 03, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

At times during Bruce Brown's endless "Endless Summer II," I felt like I was in the Jim Palmer underwear ad hall of fame: too much time among scrawny, handsome men-boys in their briefs striking heroic poses for the camera.

But it has plenty of waves, and now and then a big one comes along and some of the old magic is rediscovered. A man riding a wall of water with the grace of an acrobat and the guts of a burglar, syncopated to some very hot music, is a spectacle into and of himself, and for those of us who have to think twice before venturing into the deep end, it provides a momentary hoot or two.

But the movie feels ancient as old bones and stale as Civil War bread. It's as if Brown thinks it's still 1964 and he hasn't even reached August yet!

Brown, of course, made himself rich and famous back then with the original "Endless Summer," an amateurishly shot 16-mm account of two surfers hunting the perfect wave to the banal melody of desperately imperfect narration provided by Brown himself. It really caught the wave, just as surfing exploded, the Beach Boys were taking off and the whole culture seemed eager to partake of the fantasy of effortlessly riding the waves.

The "sequel" is really more of a re-make: It involves the same conceit as the '64 work, and this time the two globe-trotting surfers are Robert "Wingnut" Weaver and Pat O'Connell, not a mote of charisma between them. But there's a huge difference: Where Brown hasn't grown a bit, audiences have savvied up considerably.

Thus the central device of the movie doesn't work. In those media-naive days 30 years back, what was on screen was somehow more literal than it is now because we weren't aware of the degree of artifice and technique that went behind it. It was still the modern era, not yet the post-modern; narrative hadn't been deconstructed and revealed to be another cheap fraud. One could buy into the conceit of applying the fictional techniques to real events, in which the surfers acted as if they didn't notice the camera that was photographing them and that all the events were completely spontaneous. Like any conventional feature film or play, the camera was an invisible fourth wall.

That's pretty much all gone now, and to watch these young men pretend they don't know it's a movie, even if they keep sneaking peaks at the lenses and we can sometimes notice drops on the lens and see the shadow of the filmmaker, is extremely grating.

Instead of trying to be ironic, comic, to play off the form he invented 30 years ago, Brown simply duplicates it literally to the effect of mind-boggling inanity. When Wingnut and Pat are trapped in a beach buggy by South African lions and afraid of getting eaten, you know it's a complete phony, because the camera is set up outside the buggy and clearly there's a cameraman, Brown himself and three or four go-fors hanging around just outside the frame.

Even worse is a moronic sequence in a French restaurant where Pat, the blond kid who may have sucked down too many guppies in his thousand or so wipeouts, picks something off the menu and it turns out to be snails. It's that schoolboy ickiness -- ew, snails! -- that suggests the puerile level of the filmmaking.

Brown is completely artless. He has no concept of character or narrative structure and in fact the wave itself is a perfect metaphor for his method: He just gets on and rides until the crest of water that's propelling him dies out; then he paddles out and tries to catch another one. His narration is twaddle: "This time, the waves were really ripping and Wingnut caught a truly beautiful ride. He came out really stoked!" Wow, like cool, Daddy-O!

There's also something somewhat irritating in the blindness of surfer culture. These guys just bop around the world without noticing anything but water. They blithely sail through desperate lands like South Africa and Indonesia without noticing the poverty and oppression that is the rule.

And even as a chronicler of a sport, Brown flubs the big chance. I wanted a money shot, for the movie's best scenes involve a scary maneuver known as getting into the barrel of the wave: that is, so expertly nabbing its currents that one can ride them diagonally, expertly playing balance and destruction off against each other, while the wave itself curls overhead. One is literally in a thundering, rolling, moving tube of H20, in a totally green environment. Time and time again, Brown shows us one of his guys entering the tube and emerging unscathed 200 yards and 20 seconds later. But I want to know: What's it like to be inside? You couldn't mount a camera on the board and give me that thrill? I guarantee you, I'll never get there any other way.

"Endless Summer II"

Documentary

Directed by Bruce Brown

Released by New Line

PG-rating

... **

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