Malibu Rescue: The Next Wave might be your only trip to the beach this summer — maybe staying at home isn’t so bad after all?
Is right now the absolute worst time to release a knockabout family comedy set in the sand, sun, and crystal-clear water of Malibu Beach? With most of the world in lockdown arguing about the effectiveness of masks and the competence of democratically-elected (or not) leadership, it seems like a cruel joke, and Malibu Rescue: The Next Wave is ten minutes longer than the previous film in this franchise, which doesn’t help either. But you never know. This might be the only trip to the beach you’re able to take this summer, and while that might be a reminder that staying at home isn’t so bad after all, there are enough preteen laughs and lessons here that at least your kids might forget to terrorize you for an hour.
The same admittedly winning cast returns here as the Flounders, the Tower 2 team of Junior Rescuers whose job in this sequel, at least at first, is to host the annual International Junior Rescue Championships, otherwise known as the Beachmaster — a series of grueling beach-based activities to be completed by the best cultural stereotypes each competing country can muster. When the smug returning champions Team USA all come down with a nasty and convenient bout of food poisoning, it’s up to Tyler (Ricardo Hurtado), Dylan (Jackie R. Jacobson), Gina (Breanna Yde), Lizzy (Abby Donnelly) and Eric (Alkoya Brunson) to compete in their stead, and they’re up against an unscrupulous Australian team fronted by Wayno (Carlos Sanson) and his right-hand-woman Kezza (Kirrilee Berger), who speak in a virtually incomprehensible stream of chirpy regional slang.
The familiar cast all fit neatly back into their archetypes, with some dynamics tweaked a little. Tyler is still desperately driven by ego — it’s his rivalry with Team USA standout Brody (JT Neal) that positions the Tower 2 team as national saviors in the first place — but he has a better relationship with his dopey step-father Roger, who’s in charge of the team, and his step-sister Sasha (Ella Gross), who’s on-hand as a representative of Junior Junior Rescue, in part to drum up new applicants after the calamities of the previous film and season scared people away from the beach. Dylan is crushing on Tyler to a degree that panics even her — the film opens with her dreaming about him — while the unflappably enthusiastic Lizzy’s burgeoning relationship with Eric has left him so behind in art class that they have to replace him in summer school with a dummy version hidden behind a big easel. Gina, meanwhile, takes on drill instructor duties to get the team ready for the Beachmaster in just two days, which goes roughly how you’d imagine.
Some of this stuff sets up jokes that I confess to laughing at more than I perhaps should’ve, and these young actors remain surprisingly likable, especially Ella Gross’s precocious Sasha, who has a lot more to do and just can’t help slyly interfering, sometimes to the detriment of everyone. The Flounders spend as much time correcting their own mistakes as they do actually competing in the Beastmaster, which is all the better to impart the film’s obligatory lessons about fair play, self-belief, and open-minded acceptance. But it isn’t as trite as that thanks to a deeply sarcastic script by director Savage Steve Holland alongside Jed Elinoff, Scott McAboy, and Scott Thomas, which knows exactly what kind of film this is and lets the characters enjoy making fun of it.
That script is a clear highlight, but it misses an open goal by depicting the supposedly international competition entirely in terms of Team USA and the English-speaking Team Australia, reducing the other competing nations to nothing more than some fluttering flags held up by supporters. Malibu Rescue: The Next Wave has a good long laugh at Australian (and American) cultural stereotypes and it could have easily widened that scope a bit. Perhaps I’m asking too much.
Either way, as such things go, this is perfectly agreeable family fare. It isn’t very good, and it’s probably exactly what you’d expect, but it isn’t outright bad or offensive either. It is, simply, what it is, and if it’s the closest we’re going to get to a holiday in these trying times, then you might as well pack a bag.