The Surfer (2024)

The Surfer Review

The Surfer
The Surfer

In the movie “The Surfer,” Nicolas Cage stars as the main character, but he does not get on a surfboard until the last minute of the film. Also, this movie occurs on an Australian muscle beach, although it is not about surfing. It is actually about male anxiety, male power, male middle-age crises, male pain and dominance rituals – and how much theater Nicolas Cage can wring from all that. “The Surfer,” which was smart programming, because it truly is one of those movies that are best watched by sitting back and letting oneself go with it.

That is simple for Cage to make happen. The film has been created as a bad-trip psychodrama mixed with high-camp Nicolas Cage freak-out. I just wish that its what-is-reality?-ness were matched by filmmaking chops in “The Surfer,” directed by Lorcan Finnegan from a screenplay by Thomas Martin: The thing tries for something but also skimps wherever possible.

This is a kind of twisty-headed puzzle movie where you know you just know the title character will be listed in the credits as … The Surfer. (No name given.) But at first Cage seems to play him as an utterly ordinary if desperate finance dude in a rumpled light-gray suit and morose beard. He arrives at Luna Bay in his Lexus with his teenage son (Finn Little), who wants to go surfing while they’re there; his wife has left him, but he has dreams of reconciliation. In fact, Luna Bay happens to be the place where they lived when he was growing up until he was 15; then his father died and his mother took him to California because … well, she had reasons or whatever. (Which makes him seem like some kind of American-dweeb foreigner in Australia). Now if only he can buy that house above the beach (asking price $1.6 million), he figures, everything will return to The Way It Was.

We can see that this is a macho Aussie terror story. But is he also losing it? Is he slipping into another dimension? He’s beaten and battered, his car trashed and stolen, so he starts wandering around like a bum. Is the abandoned red jalopy he starts crashing in his actual car? Could the cranky bum (Nicholas Cassim) who keeps hanging around be…the Cage character?

Cage has what I’d call a middle-grade Nicolas Cage field day sinking lower and lower into sloppiness, self-abnegation and contorted rage. He rages and grimaces. He mopes and pleads. He fills his empty bottle with icky orange water from a beach bathroom faucet and tries to drink it. He flirts with eating a dead rat, then uses it as a weapon. (The money-shot line of the movie: “Eat the rat!”) And then there’s what looked to me like it could be a Cage-eats-a-real-bug-in-“Vampire’s-Kiss” moment. He finds a nest of small eggs — are they turtle eggs? and breaks them open, pouring the raw yolks into his mouth. The incipient stoned surrealism is reinforced by token bits of hallucinatory imagery, mostly shots of lizards and porcupines and what appear to be aerial screensaver views of aqua waves.

Is there some sort of point to all this? As it happens, yes kind of! “The Surfer,” in its threadbare gonzo way, is an allegory about new money; about new tribal rites of retro masculinity; about Nickelback fans from hell; about people who flock to L.A.’s real-life Venice Beach but never venture beyond that ’90-second walk street’; about all those things and more! That public beach is walled off from Cage because the surf-bum bullies are trust-fund kids guarding their gated community. Cage, by contrast, is on the verge of losing his family, his home, his past, his future and his center of gravity as a man. The main bay boy, an athletic middle-aged dude named Scally (Julian McMahon), turns out to be the head of a local men’s cult where the mantra is, “You can’t surf if you don’t suffer.” What this means is that the Cage character has to hit bottom in order to purge himself to come out the other side of his pain and his yuppie dream.

Or something. “The Surfer” is entertaining up to a point but it also has a too-broad and cursory quality that I think will limit its appeal in the real world. It’s not that I don’t take the promise of Nicolas Cage’s artful overacting seriously; it’s that I take it just seriously enough not to want to see it come out only at midnight.

Watch The Surfer For Free On Gomovies.

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