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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. -- Ella Taylor

 
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