Step Into Liquid

If ever a documentary needed its "no special effects" disclaimer, it's Dana Brown's scattershot look at surf culture worldwide. Brown captures spectacular physical feats, like a boarder skimming the inner curve of a 60-foot wall of water, so flat-out unbelievable that you can't help but think they must be CGI effects. But as in the equally mind-boggling,...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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If ever a documentary needed its "no special effects" disclaimer, it's Dana Brown's scattershot look at surf culture worldwide. Brown captures spectacular physical feats, like a boarder skimming the inner curve of a 60-foot wall of water, so flat-out unbelievable that you can't help but think they must be CGI effects. But as in the equally mind-boggling, though entirely different, WINGED MIGRATION (2001), everything is real. Writer, producer, director and gee-whiz narrator Brown is the son of director Bruce Brown, whose groundbreaking ENDLESS SUMMER (1966) helped redefine surf culture for landlubbers raised on Hollywood's giggly sex-and-surf movies. Where Bruce revealed surfers' dedication to respecting nature, finding inner harmony and cultivating camaraderie with like-minded individuals, Dana hopes to eradicate the popular stereotype of sun- and dope-addled beach bums by profiling wave chasers with more on their minds than the best brand of board wax. But the younger Brown protests too much; the various segments of his deeply uneven, globetrotting grab bag range from authentically uplifting to seriously silly. There's no disparaging the good intentions of the Irish-American Malloy brothers, whose beginner's surf class on the frigid Irish coast allowed Catholic and Protestant children to mingle harmoniously, or the determination of Jesse Billauer, who returned to the water after a surfing accident left him quadriplegic. But Dale Webster, who resolved more than 25 years ago to surf every single day, is a goofball. He may deserve credit for sheer stick-to-itiveness, but all he's done with his life is surf every day. Brown, who co-wrote and co-edited his father's ENDLESS SUMMER II (1994), revisits its co-star, Robert "Wingnut" Weaver, and celebrities like Dave Kalama, Laird Hamilton — widely considered the world's best and a pioneer in hydrofoil surfing — and his close rival, Kelly Slater. All echo the attitude of veteran Rabbit Kekai, who got his start in 1927: "Once you get the sand between your toes," he says, "you can never leave the beach." Overall the movie's strength is breadth, not depth: Glimpses of Great Lakes surf culture in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, or dedicated Texas wave riders negotiating the wake of supertankers in the otherwise glassy Galveston Shipping Lane are fascinating because they're so unexpected. But surfing isn't inherently service to humanity; it's a sport whose grace and athleticism Brown captures thrillingly, and that should be enough.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: If ever a documentary needed its "no special effects" disclaimer, it's Dana Brown's scattershot look at surf culture worldwide. Brown captures spectacular physical feats, like a boarder skimming the inner curve of a 60-foot wall of water, so flat-out unbel… (more)

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