National Lampoon movies have long since fallen on B-movie, straight to Red Box hard times. The raunchy originality of “Animal House,” and “Vacation” are long gone, even the chuckle-worthy comedies like “Van Wilder,” “Last Resort” and “Class Reunion” are behind this nameplate. The stuff Nat Lamp has cranked out these days is far from the offbeat Ivy League humor the magazine was known for, and is barely watchable.
Lo and behold, though, “Surf Party” is surprisingly entertaining and even a bit subtle and serious at times, with a nice little cast of promising young actors. I think this is a case of a movie that came out to be more than it was intended to be. The cover evidences a plan for nothing more than a story of beach-set bikinis and beer.
In reality, there’s never really a party at all. We’ve got aimless surfer teen JD, played likably by Khan Chittenden (“Blue Water High”) who finally saves enough money to get his new board from master shaper Mooney (Matthew Lillare of “She’s All That,” “Hackers” etc).
There’s some fantastic surfing footage, but then the kid’s board disappears, apparently stolen by some outsider. In the guise of an outrageous comedy, the film explores territoriality and the search to belong to something – in this case, Ventura beach rats vs. wealthier L.A. valley preps. JD and his friends decide that they need to exact revenge and head for L.A. with a classic road trip storyline, coming to grips in the process with the fact that they have no plans for the future. Before it’s over, we see a teen love that’s bound for lack-of-commitment failure, a young friend with a self-destructive bent who is bound for a tragic end. Some will get out, some will simply … surf.
Be warned, it’s low budget, sometimes sophomoric fare, overpacked with beer swilling and pot-smoking, adult language and a couple of scenes of typical National Lampoon gratuitive toplessness.
But it’s also got a nice beachy, rebellious, California feel – not too much thought required, but not boring either.
It’s also got some young faces to watch – Colton James as the consummate angry outsider kid, Ray Santiago as the hormonal sidekick. And stealing the show is 23-year-old Allison Scagliotti with her bewitching eyes and a bit of a seething edge. Watch for her to go places. Toss in a few familiar faces like singer Joan Jett as a mysterious beachcomber, Richmond Arquette from “Fight Club,” and Vanessa Angel from the likes of “King of New York” and “Weird Science” and you get a comfortable watch.
Don’t expect a life-changing experience, but there are worse things to do with an evening when it’s 10 below that watching a surf flick.
By the way, here’s a bonus Dana’s Dozen – the 12 best surfing movies of all time:
12. “Back to the Beach”
11. “Soul Surfer”
10. “Blue Crush”
9. “Riding Giants”
8. Chasing Mavericks
7. “A Brokedown Melody”
6. “The September Sessions”
5. Big Wednesday”
4. Dogtown and Z-Boys”
3. “Surfer, Dude”
2. “The Endless Summer”
1. “Point Break”