The plot of "Red Surf" (at selected theaters) must be as old as the movies. It's the one about the guy who wants to pull off one final job and then settle down, promising the woman he loves that "things will be different."
We know better, yet it's amazing how potent such a story can still be, especially when it's as well-told as it is here. H. Gordon Boos, a seasoned assistant director, most recently to Francis Coppola, has made a dynamite directorial debut. For him and his writers, principally Vincent Robert, the tangy, seductive "Red Surf" becomes a chance to consider what can happen to Southern California surfers, those mythical golden boys, once their moment of glory has passed.
George Clooney's dark-haired Remar and Doug Savant's blonde Attila are the Hardy Boys going bad. They're personable, handsome, rangy guys, still young enough for their hard-partying not to leave its mark visibly. An injured leg has sidelined Remar from the surfing that once won him trophies and magazine covers. Since he's into drugs, it has become an all-too-easy step into running them for an East Los Angeles kingpin (Rick Najera), a bizarre, savage decadent holed up in a crumbling mansion. (He's the one key character drawn from other movies rather than from life.) Attila is a sweet-natured type who is loyalty personified, not too swift but not so dumb as to not realize that he and his best friend are asking for trouble.
Remar may be self-destructive, but he's no fool either. He knows that there's true love between him and his live-in girlfriend Rebecca (Dedee Pfeiffer), but that he's in danger of losing her. He's becoming painfully aware that it's time to grow up, but he can't resist that one last run.
Thanks to casting that's as sharp as the film's writing and direction, it's possible to come away from the film caring more about these three than perhaps they really deserve. For Clooney, Savant and Pfeiffer aren't merely great-looking, but have genuine charm, ability and star quality. There are also strong impressions made by Philip McKeon as Remar and Attila's disastrously thickheaded pal and by rock star Gene Simmons as their older, wiser mentor, a maker of surf boards and wet bikes.
"Red Surf" (rated R for violence and language) fulfills all the obligations of a youth-action genre picture but emerges as more than that. It brings to mind "Tequila Sunrise," and not just because that talented Pfeiffer is Michelle's younger sister or because of its lush look (thanks to cinematographer John Schwartzman) and languorous, plaintive score (by Sasha Matson). It's because it perceives that all that is glamorous and sunny in rootless and transitory L.A. can hide a lethal undertow.
An Academy Entertainment release of an Arrowhead Entertainment presentation. Executive producer Greg H. Sims. Producer Richard Weinman. Co-producer Jason Hoffs. Director H. Gordon Boos. Screenplay Vincent Robert; from a story by Brian Gamble, Jason Hoffs and Robert. Additional material by Boos. Camera John Schwartzman. Music Sasha Matson. Production designer Lynda Burbank. Costumes Pamela Skaist, Lynda Meltzer. Stunt coordinator Wild Bill Mock. Film editor Dennis Dolan. With George Clooney, Doug Savant, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gene Simmons, Rick Najera, Philip McKeon.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.
MPAA-rated: R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).