Second Place, 1981 Eurovision Song
Hello again, everyone, and welcome back to the column that feels your pain. As attentive
masochists will know I do like to challenge the intelligence (and, some would argue, the pain and
boredom thresholds) of my readers and so I present this small challenge to anyone with nothing
better to do with their time: what on earth has the above title got to do with the subjects of
this week's column? The first person to figure it out will get a name-check in next week's
24LAS and anything else it is within my power to give (i.e. virtually nothing).
So now let's give three hearty cheers and a cry of 'Where the hell have you been,
then?' as - after what seems like a very long break - that riotously rib-tickling (not to mention
extremely rich) rascal Rowan Atkinson returns to our screens in Peter (Joey Boswell) Howitt's
Based on a long-running series of adverts Atkinson made in the 1990s, this is the improbable
tale of junior-level spy Johnny English, who - following a series of accidents he is not entirely
free of blame for - finds himself the highest-ranking officer in MI7 still drawing breath.
With the aid of his enthusiastic sidekick Bough (Ben Miller), English's first assignment is to
investigate the French prisons tycoon Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich, phoning it in) - but what
part do the Crown Jewels and the Archbishop of Canterbury have in the perfidious Frog's
schemes? And how is the mysterious Lorna Campbell (gamine popstrel Natalie Imbruglia) mixed
up in all this?
At first glance this appears to be a film in an old genre currently enjoying a renewed lease
of life - namely, the Bond spoof. Certainly this movie makes various nods in that direction,
employing most of the Bond staples - the girl, the gadget-ridden car, the villain with a
ridiculous masterplan - and at one point there's an hilariously scatalogical parody of Dr
No. But, wisely, the filmmakers appear to have realised that with the Bond movies
themselves operating with tongue firmly in cheek most of the time, not to mention the massive
popularity of the Austin Powers movies, there's very little room for manoeuvre left in
this particular arena, and this is really much more of a generic knockabout comedy.
In fact, the film this reminded me of most was last year's Ali G Indahouse - it has
the same obsession with postcard images of London and the Royal Family, the same broad,
scattershot approach to its humour. With a jingoistically named hero taking on a French villain,
there was a lot of potential here for some acerbic political satire - which the scriptwriters
decided to ignore in favour of slapstick and Atkinson painstakingly humiliating himself every
So it's just as well that the film's actually very funny indeed - particularly impressive given
that so many of the jokes are extraordinarily predictable! It's been carefully scripted so
Rowan Atkinson can do all the stuff he's famous for - Bean-style mime and physical
comedy, plus Blackadderish scabrousness and hubris. This is the first time he's carried
a film single-handedly (unless any of you can correct me...), and he does an extremely good job
of it. To be fair, he gets nearly all the funny lines in the film, although Ben Miller provides
excellent comic support. Malkovich takes refuge in the first resort of the struggling comic
actor, deploying an extremely silly accent. And Natalie Imbruglia looks very nice, although this
should not be news to anyone.
Howitt directs inventively (to avoid paying for crowd scenes it looks like he simply went out
and filmed people watching last summer's Jubilee celebrations) and his action sequences are
particularly impressive, though I doubt the Broccolis will be on the phone just yet. One real
oddity, though: attentive masochists will recall me complaining about the Fake Trailer Gambit,
where stuff in the advert isn't in the movie. Well, Johnny English has a weird variation
on this - all the stuff from the trailer appears, it's just that some of it has different actors
playing the parts, for no reason I can think of. Very, very strange...
In any case, Johnny English is a welcome return to the screen for one of the UK's
finest comic performers. It's probably not to everyone's taste - it's too broad and obvious for
that - but it is immensely likeable. It made me smile, it made me chuckle, it made me laugh, and
it made me want to apply for a new credit card (not sure why, but anyway....) Not as good as
the best of the Austin Powers movies, but definitely within striking distance. Fun.
Surf Washes Whiter
As those who know me will happily confirm, there are few things I enjoy more than wriggling
into my rubberised suit, breaking out the wax, and taking it to the extreme, no matter what the
risk of personal injury. Or, failing that, going surfing. But, when I'm not hanging ten amidst the
thunder of the briny deep, I do so also enjoy going to see surf movies1. Unfortunately
this has been a bit of a dead genre the last twenty years or so - the last surfing movie I can
remember, Blue Juice, was not only set in Cornwall, but made so long ago that at the
time Sean Pertwee was a bigger star than either Ewan McGregor or Catherine Zeta Jones. Ah,
the good old days...
John Stockwell tries to do CPR on the corpse of the surf movie with Blue Crush, a
film based on a magazine article by the noted journalist, drug addict and attempted murderer
Susan Orlean (who'll be living down the Kaufman brothers' take on her in Adaptation.
forever). It's the story of Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), most talented of a group of young
female surfers living in Maui. Due to return to the competitive circuit following a nasty
head-rock-water-lungs type accident, her life is complicated by the wilful antics of her little
sister Penny (Mika Boorem), and her lousy job as a hotel maid. As if all this weren't enough, she
is distracted from her preparation for the upcoming Pipe Masters tournament by the arrival of
a handsome young American footballer (Matthew Davis, one of the most boring actors to hit
our screens in a long while) - much to the disgust of her sulky, snarling trainer Eden (the
semi-divine entity that is Michelle Rodriguez). How complicated can one surfer-chick's life
It would have been easy for Stockwell and scriptwriter Lizzy Weiss to go down the obvious
route and turn out a succession of cheesecake sequences in which golden-tanned bikinied honeys
effortlessly ride the waves, when not sprawled invitingly beneath the waving fronds of palm
trees. Quite how they didn't manage it I'll never know, but let's get over our disappointment
and look at what they decided to put in their film instead of all that.
Blue Crush starts promisingly, with an unexpectedly psychedelic opening sequence,
and then segues into a rather impressively naturalistic mode. It doesn't attempt to make life as
a surf-chick look like one long beach party, instead it focuses on the crappy jobs, and the
expense, and the prejudice they have to put up with from the local dudes. The film doesn't shy
away from the arcane jargon of surfing, either, providing welcome verisimilitude. And, in a
low-key way, this works - the contrast between the realism and the directorial flourishes
Stockwell inserts, seemingly at random, gives the film some energy.
But all this goes rather by the wayside as the film proceeds and the romantic subplot
between Bosworth and Davis gets going. The film seems to travel twenty years back in time, as
nasty 80s-style graphic design rears its ugly head, over familiar teen-movie plot threads appear
from nowhere, and Bananarama songs insidiously take over the soundtrack. The romance itself
is really, really dull. Both the characters are blandly attractive but deeply uninteresting, and
the personal dilemma - should I pursue this romance or go all out to surf that pipe? - is trite
and predictable. It's a pretty thin plot about pretty thin characters (played, and don't all
laugh at once, by pretty and thin actors).
The salvation of any surf movie is usually the actual sequences out on the boards. And this is
to some degree true of Blue Crush as well - it is utterly impossible to stick a camera out
in the middle of a cresting wave and get an unimpressive shot, the surge and thunder of the
water see to that. And a lot of the surfing, particularly that done by (suspiciously butch)
real-life surf-chicks playing themselves, is as graceful and awe-inspiring as one would expect.
The stars of the movie do a pretty good job too, but - and I can hardly bring myself to make
the allegation, so heinous is the crime - it did look to me like there was some surreptitious use
of CGI going on in a lot of the shots. For shame, for shame.
I was kind of disappointed by Blue Crush for all of these reasons, but mostly because it
makes very poor use of arguably its greatest asset. Surfing nonsense aside, I went to see this
movie mainly because it had Michelle Rodriguez in it, an actor whose praises I have repeatedly
sung in the past in this column. I had, of course, reckoned without the great racial hierarchy
which commercial Hollywood movies swear by. Kate Bosworth is no great shakes as an actress,
but she's blonde and toned enough to appear in a film by Leni Riefenstahl. This ensures she
gets the lead roles ahead of a less-Aryan performer like our 'Chelle, despite the fact that
Rodriguez has five times her acting ability and ten times her screen presence and charisma.
Scowling, uncompromising, and actually a bit scary, Rodriguez is an electrifying performer and
the one actor in this movie who makes any impression at all. With Resident Evil and this,
she's making a career out of being the best thing in turkeys - stick this girl in a lead role in a
film with a decent script and a superstar will be born! (That said, she still comes out of this
movie better than the African Americans it depicts, who are universally portrayed as
grotesque lard-arses with squalid personal habits.)
In the end, then, Blue Crush is really a bit Hawaii So-So. It's not without its
moments, but they're few and far between. Not an offensively bad film, but hackneyed,
old-fashioned, and deeply predictable.
lies, but I have to contrive an introduction from somewhere.