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Surf's Up

Yes, it's talking penguins...again. But to its immense credit, the mocumentary style of Surf's Up gives the worn gimmick a fresh and original perspective.


In honor of surfing classics such as Endless Summer and Step Into Liquid, Surf's Up winks at the genre as it focuses on a bunch of penguins before, during and after a prestigious surfing contest. Penguins you say? Why, of course! They make excellent surfers. Followed by a camera crew to document his experiences, teenage Rockhopper penguin Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf), an up-and-coming surfer from Shiverpool, Antarctica, gets his big chance when he's recruited to participate in the Big Z Memorial Surf Off on Pen Gu island. Along the way, Cody meets Midwestern surfer Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), famous surf promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods), surf talent scout Mikey Abromowitz (Mario Cantone), and spirited lifeguard Lani Aliikai (Zooey Deschanel). Cody is anxious to show everyone his skills—even if they are a bit misguided at times—and to pay homage to his hero, the late great surfing legend Big Z. But the true test comes when Cody happens upon a fat, washed-up surfer named Geek (Jeff Bridges)--who looks suspiciously like Cody's idol—and discovers that a real winner isn't always the one who comes in first.


Surf's Up is one of those occasions in which an animated film features A-list vocal talents who don't just add color, they actually embody the characters. Robin Williams' genie in Aladdin and Ray Romano's woolly mammoth in Ice Age are a few who come to mind. Now, we have LaBeouf and Bridges as the young and old penguin surfin' dudes. LaBeouf, who's simply on fire these days with his hit thriller Disturbia and the upcoming monster hit Transformers, does a nice job with his interpretation, a penguin who thinks he knows the game but really doesn't have the first clue. Bridges follows right along as the surly beachcombing recluse, an older, wiser—and slightly more oily-skinned—version of The Big Lebowski's The Dude. Also hilarious are Woods as the Don-King look-a-like otter Reggie and Cantone (TV's Sex and the City) as the twittery shorebird recruiter Mikey, channeling Jon Lovitz's spotter from A League of Their Own. Heder's Chicken Joe is the only character who comes off a little too one note—but then again, as a laid-back stoner rooster who loves life, the former Napoleon Dynamite is perfectly suited.


Damn those Happy Feet—and, for that matter, March of the Penguins. I mean, Surf's Up penguin-based story already has a knock against it. Sure, they are cute little fellows, but at this point, audiences may be saying enough is enough already with this penguin crap. Nevertheless, you simply must give Surf's Up a chance because the filmmakers do everything they can to make their movie stand out—and do it very well. First of all, a mockumentary never fails to entertain, especially with characters addressing the camera directly and the "folk" behind the camera reacting to events. With this style, there is the right mixture of humor for adults without too many pop culture references and stuff for the kiddies to understand without it going over their heads. But the best part is how Surf's Up keeps to the look of those surfing documentaries its lovingly emulating. The surfing sequences are just as thrilling to watch as if they were the real thing. Surf's Up shoots you right through the tube.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.