‘The Surfer’ Review: Nicolas Cage Battles Board-Stealing Aussie Beach Bums – Cannes Film Festival

For some years now, Nicolas Cage has been a genre unto himself: desperate, deranged, deliciously cheesy, with that special mastery of dialogue that moves seamlessly from a panting whisper to a bellow and back again. Put Cage’s name above the title and your film has an immediate brand that not only rides over script glitches but does a full Fast and Furious speed-jump over the top of any yawning gaps in probability.

Nic Cage as a surfer dude? Unlikely, but who cares? Nic Cage as an Australian? “I thought you were American,” says someone he meets on the beach in The Surfer. So did we all, my friend. So, he moved to California in his teens and now he’s back, intent on buying back the house where he grew up, which is why he sounds straight outta Noo York? No one would swallow that one, but whatever!

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The point here is that Nic Cage is a sweating, dirty, increasingly crazed dude having successive breathless pitched battles with local delinquents, a he-man cult based on the beach and the whole spectrum of Australia’s scary fauna, from the kookaburras that laugh at him to the snake that slithers around him when he’s hiding in the bushes at night. Despite his dearth of the kinds of certain skills Liam Neeson might bring to the table, he eventually will triumph against the bullies. And do we believe that? Totally! That’s the Cage brand!

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Director Lorcan Finnegan ensures from the first frame that we realize The Surfer is heir to a long history of exploitation films, a genre that arguably reached its apogee in Australia in the ‘70s. Waves are rolling toward us, perfectly formed and the kind of luminous turquoise we equate with the more toxic brands of toilet cleaner. The swinging sounds of ‘60s elevator music tell us, as clearly as anything could, that things are about to go terribly, terribly wrong. Nic is telling his son, known throughout only as The Kid (Finn Little), how this is the best break and he’s just going to love surfing it. The sign “Locals Only” doesn’t put him off. He’s a local at heart, so he is puzzled, then embarrassed and finally scared when a bunch of human pitbulls with bleached-blond hair tell him that this is their beach and he should get back to where he came from, however far away that is.

The young ones here are mean. Their elders – Nic’s own generation, supposedly, though that’s another stretch – are meaner. Spying from the carpark where he ends up making a kind of encampment after his ejection from the beach, he sees his old schoolmate Scott Callinan (Julian McMahon) conducting rituals that seem to define a kind of cult. The men and boys kneel, chant and growl like dogs. Maybe they’re a little excessive, says a local mother who comes to get a coffee from a stand at the beach, but it keeps out the riff raff. Nic can’t get a coffee. He offers his watch as collateral. It’s stolen. So is his surfboard, so is his phone, so are his shoes. He can’t even get water from the toilet block; the sink is guarded by an Australian version of Cerberus, a furiously barking chained monster. And yet, somehow, it never occurs to him to drive away. That’s how exploitation films work. Everyone seems to consent to the horror.s Cage Battle

The fact our hero simply refuses to go anywhere, even to get a bottle of water, while he still can really is several steps over the barrier of believability. Maybe that hurdle could have been cleared with some brisker editing; if the risks were more frequent and the obstacles insuperable, if the whole thing snapped along faster so that there was no time to feel the suspension of disbelief sagging, the sense of peril would steamroller its absurdity into the sand. As it is, The Surfer is an object lesson in how to make a film economically by using a single location, a bunch of surfing extras and some stock footage of lizards. Which is the grindhouse ethic at work, for sure.

Title: The Surfer
Festival: Cannes (Midnight Screenings)
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Screenwriter: Thomas Martin
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Julian Mcmahon, Nic Cassim, Miranda Tapsell, Alexander Bertrand, Justin Rosniak, Rahel Romahn, Finn Little, Charlotte Maggi
Sales agent: WME Independent (North America), North.Five.Six (International)
Running time: 1 hr 39 min

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