It’s a familiar thought: If there were a link between how much fun it is to make a film and how much fun it is to watch it, then Cannonball Run II would be the greatest movie ever made. This comes to mind watching Matthew McConaughey’s Surfer, Dude, which looks like it was plenty of fun to make, but may, on-screen, test your patience for the Citizen Kane of surfer-stoner-sunshine comedies. It’s not that Surfer, Dude is a bad movie; it’s just a very small movie.
Producer and star Matthew McConaughey stars as "soul-surfer" Steve Addington, who’s returned from his world travels in pursuit of the perfect wave to his stomping grounds of Malibu to rest, recharge, re-connect with his bros. But, as Jack’s unmanaged manager Jack (Woody Harrelson) explains, the game changed while Steve was away; his old sponsors sold out to suit-wearing smoothie Eddie Zarno (Jeffery Nordling). Steve’s still under contract, but Eddie wants Steve to be part of his new surfing virtual reality video game, his new surfing reality show and more; Steve’s more of a fan of actual reality: "I’m not some ass-clown in a green room; I’m a surfer, dude." Steve is cast out from the world of surfing, and the oceans of SoCal go flat along with Steve’s hopes. …
If someone other than Matthew McConaughey were playing Steve, a) this movie would not have been made and b) even if it had, you would want to punch Steve in the face; something about McConaughey’s charm and relaxed energy make the film fairly easy to watch. Actually, it may just be the pleasure of watching McConaughey freed from the weight of box-office expectation; much of the time, McConaughey’s movies have him alongside Kate Hudson or saving the world, neither of which look entirely natural for him. Here, his issues are simpler — surfing, doing right by his friends and trying to make his way in a wicked world — Surfer, Dude proves that these smaller concerns can be carried, and carried well, by McConaughey’s easy smile, broad shoulders and ridiculously well-developed abs.
McConaughey even offers a commentary track on this DVD, which is possibly more diverting than the film itself: "Let’s take a little walk through this journey, do some commentation. …" Commentation may not be a word, but McConaughey makes it sound like one. Directed by S.R. Bindler (who shot the brilliant documentary Hands on a Hard Body), Surfer, Dude goes through some fairly familiar paces. Steve is tested by life; Steve vows to change his life until the joy, and the waves come back – even forsaking weed and women; Steve meets Danni, a good woman who brings out the good in him (Alexi Gilmore); Steve learns that he can change some things for the better and make some things better by not changing. Several supporting characters are pleasant, charming and useless; it’s nice to have Willie Nelson show up as Steve’s guru and dealer, but it’s not necessary. And the film’s hijinks and hedonism are fun, but if you don’t like seeming naked breasts and gratuitous pot smoking, this isn’t the film for you.
Surfer, Dude also has a few nice insights to the film making process in the DVD’s extras that show it wasn’t all boards, buds and babes in the making of the film, as McConaughey and his co-producers have to choose between a good friend and a good actor for a supporting part, and go with the good actor. And for all of Surfer, Dude‘s waves-and-pals atmosphere, there’s a couple of nice themes under it all, as Steve chooses between simple indulgence and sprawling excess, between fun and ‘fun,’ between what he wants and what he needs. And Steve’s initial obliviousness is revealed as a sort of Zen purity, as when he tells Danni "Quick: Don’t just do something, stand there." Surfer, Dude is light, and slight, but surfers will tell you that not every curl coming up the beach has to be a thirty-footer for the record books; much like a gentle wave, Surfer, Dude is a nice, low-key ride.