In Surfer Dude’s Hands

Delving into the dark depths of Hollywood's worst mainstream surf movie

Surfer, Dude, starring Matthew McConaughey. A major motion picture, seriously.
Surfer, Dude. A major motion picture, seriously.

The other day I decided to live dangerously. Grabbed the tiger by the tail. Bit the bullet.

I sacked up, faced my fears and, for the first time ever watched In God’s Hands.

It was kind of an accident, really. A series of YouTube links had led me to the movie North Shore, and as I was watching that uber-cheesy, highly-quotable, poorly-cameoed yet-ultimately-fun ‘80s time capsule, I noticed a side bar link to a full length version of IGH.

After an internal battle (No! Don’t do it! / Come on, don’t be a wuss), my masochistic side won out. Despite knowing all about the negative reviews—all about the potential discomfort—I clicked on the link anyway. I mean, how bad could it be?

Pretty darn bad, as it turns out.

Even with rock bottom expectations, IGH made me cringe more times than a Milli Vanilli video. During certain points in the film it felt like I was being tortured for watching—just full-on cinematic waterboarding. At the risk of flogging a dead horse, let me just summarize the film by saying that I won’t miss pouty lips, contrived exotica, mumbling dialogue, disjunctive plots, or horizon-staring actors anytime soon.

But watching North Shore and In God’s Hands back to back got me thinking: On a cinematic level, both were bad movies, but for some reason history has forgiven North Shore, while IGH continues to be vilified. This seems kind of unfair given the virtual parade of Hollywood cornball, from Gidget to Point Break. Bad Hollywood surf movies are a durable, seemingly inescapable tradition—why should we pick on In God’s Hands any more than Gidget?

I asked surf historian/journalist Matt Warshaw about this phenomenon, and he reckoned that it all had to do with intent. That those other films had been forgiven over the years because of their light-heartedness, but hatred directed at In God’s Hands hadn’t rubbed off because the film, “shot for deeply profound territory and came up so amazingly short that it was an epic fail.”

Epic fail or not, I have some good news for In God’s Hands. Some epic news in fact. A few months back, with no other reasonable Red Box choices on offer, I rented a DVD called, Surfer, Dude. This was one of the greatest mistakes of my life.

I’m not sure why it’s not public knowledge, or what kind of cover-up has taken place since, but I’m here to report that Surfer, Dude might be the worst mainstream surf movie ever released. A true turd in the toilet bowl that is Hollywood surf cinema.

It was so bad that until I read the marketing material, I had no idea that the film was meant to be a comedy. And if you need objective confirmation, just visit RottenTomatoes.com: A cross-section of 18 critics gave Surfer, Dude a giant goose egg, a rare 0-percent approval rating—the lowest possible score.

What’s especially disturbing about Surfer, Dude is that it features experienced, well-known actors. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson actually made a conscious decision to be in this film, and one can only guess what brand of glue they were sniffing after agreeing to take part. Comedy or not, their portrayals are not only an affront to surfers everywhere, but have a way of making some of the acting in IGH seem Oscar-worthy.

In God’s Hands might have been a profound failure, but it can at least use an inexperienced actor/screenwriter excuse. Surfer, Dude has no such alibi.

Therefore, I’d now like to nominate a new bottom feeder. A new cinematic flounder for us to step on. I suggest we remove the albatross from IGH’s neck in order to place it squarely in Surfer, Dude’s hands.