January 20, 2009
With his laid-back, bohemian reputation, cultivated by his break-out performance in Dazed and Confused (1993), being cast a professional surfer seems like the role of a lifetime for Matthew McConaughey. Surfer, Dude (2008) was a personal, pet project for the actor (in addition to starring, he also produced it) and the film was barely released in theaters and slammed by the critics only to eventually limp out on home video.
After spending six months surfing all over the world in a version of his own Endless Summer, Steve Addington (McConaughey) returns to his home in Malibu to find out from his manager Jack (Harrelson) that he’s low on funds. Ex-surfer turned corporate magnate Eddie Zarno (Nordling) offers Steve a chance to appear in a virtual reality video game and with other pro surfers on a reality television show.
All Steve really cares about is hanging with his friends, getting high and catching the perfect wave. Jack convinces him to give the T.V. show a shot but the surfer ends up turning down Zarno’s deal. Then, the worst thing that can possibly happen to Steve does: the waves on the ocean disappear for weeks on end. In retaliation, Zarno, who owns Steve’s contract, freezes the surfer’s expense account. What will Steve do?
McConaughey, normally in person, talks like a surfer, but in this role he’s trying too hard to talk like one. When he and Woody Harrelson banter back and forth in surfer-speak it feels forced. One gets the feeling that McConaughey wants to do for surfing what Jeff Bridges did for bowling in The Big Lebowski (1998). Also, more surfing footage would’ve been nice. For a film about surfing there is precious little of it. Less generic reggae music would’ve been nice but at least it was not crammed with predictable surf music like “Wipe Out” or “Miserlou.”
The screenplay is uneven in parts with clunky dialogue throughout but its heart is in the right place. Surfer, Dude is a critique against the corporatization of surfing. It’s become all about money with surfers becoming a brand when it should be about catching a wave and hanging with your friends. Zarno represents everything that’s about the world of surfing: commercialization and materialism while Steve represents the soulful side – the pure, unfiltered love of doing it. One can appreciate the film’s message it’s just a shame that the execution wasn’t better.
“Surfer, Dude: The Real Story” takes a look at the film. McConaughey claims that it was seven years in the making. Many screenplay drafts were written by several people over the years. We also get insight into the casting process. In particular, the role of Danni and how two weeks before principal photography they still hadn’t found an actress right for the character.
Also included are 11 minutes of deleted scenes – a collection of random discarded footage and extensions of scenes. There’s more of Addington and his buddies doing their thing.
“The Complete Surfer, Dude 12-Webisode Series” features quite a bit of footage from the “Real Story” featurette with lots of bits of business involving cast and crew members goofing around and having a good time making the film.
There is also a theatrical trailer.
Finally, there is an audio commentary by Matthew McConaughey. He points out and identifies his surfing double. The actor touches upon the casting of his surfing buddies. McConaughey speaks admiringly of working with Woody Harrelson. He also points out the visual and sonic contrasts between Steve’s world and Zarno’s reality house. The actor touches upon some of the film’s themes in the kind of laid-back commentary you’d expect from McConaughey who comes across a lot like his character.