Wolfe Video,

Dan Castle

Lachlan Buchanan, Xavier Samuel, Reshad Strik, Kirk Jenkins, Anthony Hayes, Shane Jacobson, Barry Otto, Ben Milliken

Unrated, 107 minutes

Surf's Up
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, August 2009

I can't help it. Whenever I see a movie about surfing, all I can think about is those cheesy Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies from the 60s. And I hear "Wipe Out" by the Surfaris in my head. One thing that I can say right off the bat about Newcastle, an Australian surfer epic from writer/director Dan Castle, is that there aren't any laughable scenes where surfers are filmed from the waist up while flailing their arms in front of a back projection screen.

Newcastle is a beefcake fest that tells the story of a young man who wants to rule the waves. Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) is 17 and lives in the shadow of his older brother Victor (Reshad Strik), a former champion surfer. An injury ended Victor's career and now he labors in the shipyards with their father. Victor, jealous of his younger brother's surfing prowess, is a powder keg waiting to explode. Jesse's twin brother, Fergus (Xavier Samuel), is gay. He is picked on, but tolerated, by Jesse's surf posse. Fergus is a quasi-Goth who pines after Jesse's best surfing buddy, Andy (Kirk Jenkins).

Jesse loses a spot in the Championship and so he gathers his chums, some babes, (and, reluctantly, Fergus), on a beach camping weekend to blow off steam. A few nice character-driven scenes, especially involving Fergus and Andy, play out nicely but are swallowed up by bad campfire singalongs, belching, and drunken pranks. After this night of debauchery, the lads hit the waves. Their camaraderie is interrupted when big brother Victor shows up with two equally testosterone-fueled friends to challenge them. Tragedy befalls and the third act is dominated by a family drama that - while exceptionally well acted - just goes on forever!

The film's tone vacillates between dumb high school hi-jinks and gritty working class drama. It's like two different films spliced together while someone was asleep in the editing room. Terrific moments are scattered throughout but there is no glue holding it all together. There is a nice contrast between the beach and the industrial Newcastle seaport imagery. Ocean freighters are often in the background of the surfing scenes as a constant reminder of the lads' working class roots and their desire to escape. The addition of Fergus, the gay brother, adds a lot of interest to the film and it is refreshing that his queerness is mostly a non-issue. (It was especially amusing, following a skinny dipping scene, when the straight boys are dumbfounded that Fergus is way better hung than the rest of them.) But, on the minus side, there are way too many meaningful glances and beach interludes. The film is too long and could easily lose at least 15 minutes.
One of its problems is that there is too much going on and none of it is ever resolved satisfactorily. I would love to know, for example, if Fergus and Andy ever hook up. I've criticized films in the past for tying things up too neatly but if you're going for a Rocky feel you should at least tell the audience whether or not the underdog wins at the end; especially when you have been watching him smash things and stare into space for the previous half hour. It doesn't help that Jesse's character isn't as interesting as either of his brothers. It's possible, however, that I may have missed some important dialogue because some of the Aussie accents are so thick that you don't even know what these guys are saying half the time.

Newcastle is an ambitious, if uneven, film. What it does have, and will undoubtedly help attract hordes of young gay male viewers, is an abundance of teens who are rarely seen in anything besides swim trunks - and some spectacular surfing footage. When I say, spectacular, I mean spectacular. The photography is amazing here, both above and under the water. Newcastle looks like a Hollywood blockbuster, it is superby acted and, while it might not always connect emotionally, it will surely satisfy on a pure sensory level.