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'Surf's Up'

The cash-cow flippered ones rise again, this time as yellow-tufted surfer dudes riding the waves of life off the coast of an island that looks like a cross between Hawaii and Venice Beach. If you have to see another penguin blockbuster, you could do worse than this loose-limbed charmer written by, oh, a lot of jokesters and directed by a scant two, Ash Brannon and Chris Buck. The gimmick is a reality-television premise—just how knowingly ironic do we want our kids to be before they even hit their tweens?—but don't expect much fresh by way of plot, which is almost identical to that of Cars and every bit as pregnant with wholesome messaging. Shia LaBeouf voices Cody, a cocky but insecure Rockhopper penguin sorely in need of a father figure, who bonds with a washed-up old champion surfer (a delightful Jeff Bridges) to train for a big surf-off, during which, it goes without saying, both learn to redefine the meaning of winning. As always, the energy comes from a manic supporting cast, of whom the funniest hands-down is James Woods's Don King–like surf promoter. Surf's Up is copycat movie-making at its smoothest; its one imaginative innovation—billowing, silky, utterly sexy waves—is technical.

 
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