Ostensibly a coming-of-age surfing drama, Beautiful Wave is a dour, joyless road movie. Nicole (Aimee Teegarden) is a high school student forced to spend the summer with a grandmother she barely knows. To alleviate the boredom, Nicole convinces her grandma to let her take to the road with her friend Kayla (Alicia Ziegler). Along with a pair of surfer dudes from the neighborhood, the foursome piles into a van and heads south into Mexico from California. They are following a map made many years earlier by Nicole’s grandfather, which shows all the hottest surfing areas he used to frequent.
Nicole doesn’t surf. She’s an avid swimmer, but she is skittish about venturing into the ocean. Her father drowned when she was very young. She eventually does a little tentative surfing, but for the most part the watersports are left to her friends. Her ultimate goal is to meet her grandfather, Jimmy (Lance Henriksen), who resides at a near-mythical surfing spot called Beautiful Wave. Nicole is a fuddy-duddy bookworm who spends most of the movie scolding her two male travelling companions. Danny (David Thomas Jenkins) is her least favorite, a boorish pothead. Jeff (Ben Milliken) is a little more appealing to her, but despite hints that the two will develop a relationship, nothing really happens between them.
No element of the film works, with the exception of a well-chosen selection of easy-going pop tunes that add a bit of pep to the proceedings. The acting is uniformly uninspired, with everyone coming across as if they would rather be doing something else. The script is laced with pseudo-philosophical ramblings about how life is just a series of big waves, but it’s all a messy, nonsensical wipeout. Teegarden, a truly bodacious babe, stays very covered up for almost the entire movie. So there’s not even an eye candy element. Surfing is a highly photogenic sport when handled properly, but the filmmakers can’t even get that right. At 96 minutes, the film feels twice as long.