In God's Hands

Director: Zalman King                          
Matt George, Matty Liu, Patrick Shane Dorian

1998 wasn't the worst year for movies, but it came up with a number of stinkers. Although I haven't seen every movie of that year, I'm confident that Knock Off, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, is without doubt the worst movie of 1998. Now I have found the second-worst movie of 1998: In God's Hands, which almost beats Knock Off in sheer awfulness. You haven't heard of In God's Hands? Well, it was given almost no theatrical release by its major Hollywood distributor; the scary thing is that the per-theater grosses in the few theaters it was released to actually were quite respectable. This movie is so abysmal, that I'd rather see three of King's merely bad softcore sex movies back-to-back than see this again.

The blame for this utter failure lies almost completely on director Zalman King. Although he can pick a great cinematographer, and can pick a great sound effects crew, he shows off this stuff so much that he completely forgets about the characters and the story. Story? My mistake - there is no real story. Who wrote the script? - that's right, it was King. Oh, I suppose that there is some kind of plot to this story: Three surfers decide to challenge the big waves in Hawaii. That's it - I swear, that about all the real story that can be found here. All the rest of the movie is simply padding; in fact, it takes about half the movie before we find out these lunkhead surfers have decided to go to Hawaii. Then it takes about all of the second half of the movie before these lunkheads actually get to Hawaii. Talk about an Endless Summer...

The three lunkheads in question are 17 year-old Keoni (Liu), 22 year-old Shane (Dorian), and 35 year-old Mickey (George), who we first see in some country on the east coast of Africa training...for what? I guess it has something to do with surfing, but I don't see how picking up a rock from the bottom of the ocean and running with it on the ocean floor improves your surfing skills. But, hey man, it makes one cool visual. In fact, the whole movie looks great, which actually backfires in several places including at the beginning after Mickey, fraternizing with the local police chief's daughter, finds himself and his two buddies in jail. Crammed together in a small cage with other prisoners clad only in underwear or bathing trunks (including themselves), the lushly-lensed scene has an unintentional homoerotic quality that's so out of place it induces laughter from the viewer. A mysterious reporter who's trailing the trio arranges their escape, leading to their fleeing from the police in a sequence so sloppily edited you can hardly tell what's going on. The three find their surfboards and manage to paddle and catch up to a sea plane speeding away from the harbor and about to take off. Yes, you read that right. Don't ask. And don't ask about how it's setup that in the next scene they are suddenly on a ship to the Seychelles. Or how they convinced the captain to take them on with no money. Or how they found new clothes to replace their skeleton costumes they found while fleeing. Or how they managed to build a skateboard ramp on the ship. Or how they even found a skateboard on the ship. Or how Shane falls in love with the captain's daughter when she doesn't say a word to him during the entire voyage. Or how she falls in love with him when all he says is either useless trivia to her like, "Did you know how similar salt water is to human blood?", or a lecture on how waves are created.

That kind of statement is about as deep as we get to know about these guys. Keoni, Shane, and Mickey have no real personalities at all. All we get to know about them is that they are obsessed with surfing, and that Keoni's mother has really bad teeth. I'm sure that there are guys like this - actual beach bums, who travel the world to look for "the perfect wave". Why couldn't the script have explored this? Finding out why they are obsessed with surfing, and what impact (positive and negative) this has had on their lives could have been fascinating and insightful, as well as giving us characters with some interest. We are told so little, we come up with nitpicks like how the heck they manage to raise money to travel (Mickey does some street market boxing in Bali, but I can't see that paying airfare for the three of them.) Why not work on the fact that Keoni is a minor, but choosing to not stay at home and his reasoning for going around the world? Or that Mickey has been on the road for almost all of his life (we learn that he's spent 34 of his 35 years on the road - must have been a very precocious child.)  But King has created characters so shallow, we're not even sure of the relationship of the three guys with each other. Are they friends, or just happening to be traveling in the same direction? We're never find out for sure.

The three characters are played by three real-life world champion surfers; so it's not a complete surprise that their acting ability isn't as great as their surfing skills. Dorian is the worst performer, speaking v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and with a monotone throughout the movie. Liu is bland. George gives the best performance, though I might have just imagined this because he has most of the dialogue. By himself, though, he's still not very good, but how do you expect any cast to come up with any enthusiasm when they are constantly given lines like, "Come on, Mickey! Focus!"

The second half of this movie is especially unbearable. Stuck in Bali when Keoni gets malaria, the story loses whatever thrust it ever had and comes to a dead halt. The low point comes when King cuts between Keoni rolling around in bed screaming and footage from a rock concert featuring a Swedish band, climaxing in Keoni running delirious through the countryside and throwing a burning branch while yelling, "SHUT UP!" My thoughts exactly, Keoni. (By the way, were you actually aiming at King?) Finally we get to Hawaii's big waves and we get what's supposed to be the high point both in the "story" and the visuals, but it's shocking how underwhelming this sequences is. (Sharp-eyed viewers will also notice that King reuses one particular shot in the same sequence, trying to hide it by flip-flopping the footage.)

One day (and I'm serious when I say this), I'd like to try surfing. And when I step onto the beach in Malibu or Hawaii, I imagine the following conversation will happen between me and the first professional surfer I talk to:

HIM: "Professionals only! Don't you have any skill in surfing?"
ME: "I managed to watch all of In God's Hands without once stopping for a break."
HIM: "Whooooohhhhh, dude!"

UPDATE: "Ntsfr" sent this in:

"This is to trivial that it's probably not worth mentioning, buuut...

"You wonder at one point in your review if "picking up a rock and running with it on the ocean floor" has anything to do with surfing. Actually, yes, it does. People in training for surfing 'Jaws' (the huge waves that hit Hawaii) do this as a breathing exercise. If you wipe out on a
50-foot or more wave, chances are you're going to be slammed, hard, to the bottom of the ocean for up to two minutes. Running with a rock helps to train you to hold your breath for long periods of time so you don't drown.

"Keep up the good work, and yes, I DO live in a Southern California beach community"

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