Dawn Patrol Movie Review: Surf, Sand, and Stupidity

MTV-esque white trash masquerading as a surf movie.
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I went into Dawn Patrol with low expectations considering it's a surf movie slammed alongside a tale of murder and revenge. Really, I watched this for Scott Eastwood, the hottest thing since sliced bread - although, with that body, I doubt the man eats carbs. Unfortunately, not even Eastwood's visage can save this from being a downright terrible experience. Imagine if Point Break came without the camp, a hefty dose of race and sexism, and a total absence of 1980s Presidential masks.

In the town of Venice Beach people are losing their homes to bank foreclosures. All they have to keep them sane is the beach. When local boy John's (Eastwood) brother is killed, his family assume the killer is a Mexican gang member. A series of mistakes end up with John paying for his sins, and possibly losing his life in the process.

Dawn Patrol receives a slight bit of credit for a few things: one, we actually get a test of Eastwood as an actor. Having watched his debut turn in The Longest Ride a few months back, I worried the actor would be pigeonholed as a heartthrob, especially since he has his famous father's looks. He's no Laurence Olivier, but we watch the actor go through the litmus test of emotions - grief in the wake of his brother's death, anger at his family's response - in a way we haven't seen before. That's not to say he doesn't bring some truly hilarious moments of bad acting to the table, such as a moment where he hits a refrigerator and says "Fine" with all the conviction of a child screaming for ice cream, but it's a start. There's also a very well-done denouement featuring Eastwood and the woman playing the mother of the boy he's killed - her name must not have made the IMDB list, good for her - that hints at what could have been.

Unfortunately, two passable elements do not a good movie make. Dawn Patrol is a near excruciating sit at barely 90-minutes and that's all laid at the script's feet. This is only the second feature for screenwriters Rachel Long and Brian Pittman, and I doubt the marketing for this movie wants to say, "From the screenwriters of A Haunting at Silver Falls." The screenwriters envision this as a work of nigh-Shakespearean levels, complete with a shrewish Lady Macbeth (Rita Wilson rocking Daisy Dukes and a push-up bra) and an Ophelia you could care less about. The foreclosed houses, which amounts to nothing in the end, builds up like the script wants to say something about money and power...only to turn away from that and discuss how horrible Mexicans are.

Yes, there is enough racism and misogyny here to leave you thinking two Fox commentators wrote this. For starters, the opening scene introduces us to the "Mexicans are evil" theme of the film when John's father Trick (Jeff Fahey) opines how Mexicans have no respect for the beach. They get in the water in their jeans! Scandalous! Nearly every Latin person we meet leading up to John's brother's murder is an obvious gang member; John's mother Sheila tells John to kill his brother's presumed murderer because the police would let the guy out on bail and he'd just jump the border because "that's what they do." I'm assuming the "They" are Mexicans? Hell, there's even two "jokes" in the script where the punchline is a young girl "love[ing] the beaners" and the murderer's mother NOT living in Mexico. As a Californian, I've definitely heard these disparaging remarks, but it's hard understanding why we should give a crap then about a family of white-trash racists wanting revenge? Yes, John is a man with a moral compass in a family gone to rot, but no one ever condemns the family for their actions. There is a long sequence involving a police officer of Latin descent, but his ineptitude and quiet disappearance does little more than show him as inept. 

The third act sees John going to the mother of the boy he murdered and discovering she lives in a mansion. I was waiting for her to start throwing cocaine around or something because Lord knows "they" can't live in that house without being drug lords, right? It comes off as irony, that the family who has attacked Mexicans is worse off, but it's too little, too late. We're still left with a series of bad actions motivated by nothing complicated by the fact that our murder victim, Ben (Chris Brochu) is a misogynistic jerk. I'm surprised no one plugged him earlier considering he treats his family like garbage, claims women are his property, and generally berates and belittles everyone around him. Again, Screenwriting 101: It's hard to give any sympathy to a family or victim whose death you welcome, and it's even harder discerning why our protagonist would care short of their blood connection. 

When we're not excoriating Mexicans we're talking about how awful women are. Wilson plays the villainess well - I'd actually enjoy seeing her in villain roles of better caliber - but she's one of several women who are manipulative, sluts, or a combination of the two. The entire reason Ben dies involves a local girl named Donna (Kim Matula), otherwise known as "everyone's girlfriend." The movie never blames Ben for his possessive control of a woman he acknowledges he dumped, but instead slut shames her by putting her in various states of undress, immediately trying to hump John before Ben's body is even cold, and is referred to as "Ben's." She's sexual property and eye candy, little more, creating a close-knit community of inept men at the mercy of manipulative, shrieking harpies.

With all this going on, surfing takes a backseat. It's odd since John says, "My story begins in the water." For all the emphasis surfing and the ocean plays, the group barely get their feet wet throughout the movie. It really just allows for some good surfing and water photography.

Dawn Patrol will appeal to those who enjoy a light smattering of sports and a big dose of good old-fashioned American ideals and machismo....and that's not a compliment. Had the script focused on telling a story free of antagonism for the villains and the supposed heroes, and eschewed the stereotypical depictions of minorities and women, it could have been a B-level diversion. As it stands now, I doubt this'll do much sitting on Eastwood's resume.

Dawn Patrol hits theaters June 5th

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