When it comes to Hollywood pictures, trust the brand name. White Squall, a boys’ tale of ocean adventure, was directed by Ridley Scott and stars Jeff Bridges, both of whom have respectable résumés. It’s a Disney movie, though, and nothing more.
Adapted from a true story by scripter Todd Robinson, Squall sends a crew of teenage boys into the Caribbean so they can achieve manhood on a windjammer, the Albatross, just as JFK is facing down Castro and America is headed for space. It’s typical of the unsubtle Squall that it plays this history as both background and foreground: Kennedy can be heard talking tough on the radio soon after the playful boys scout for hookers on a tropical island, but later the crew of a Cuban patrol boat actually boards the Albatross and attempts to take hostages.
As usual, Albatross skipper Christopher Sheldon (Bridges) saves the day. A tender macho man who teaches the students of his sailing academy to be all they can be, the skipper is a new-age Marine. (According to the film’s postscript, the real Sheldon actually spent much of the Cold War in the Peace Corps.) The skipper makes men, of course, and in the aftermath of the disastrous squall that gives the film its title, those men stand by him. That, alas, endows this overlong drama with a final board-of-inquiry sequence as contrived as any courtroom scene of the last decade.
The skipper can be harsh, but the Albatross is not an unenlightened ship. One mate (John Savage) teaches the kids poetry, while the skipper’s wife, ship’s surgeon Alice (Caroline Goodall), administers the occasional VD shot with only a modicum of moralizing. A proto-environmentalist, the skipper is a protector of dolphins; he also obligingly introduces his charges to a group of teenage Dutch schoolgirls who prove remarkably willing (for 1961) to take off their clothes.
The crew features the usual gang of one-trait roles: a poor little rich boy, a tough guy with learning disabilities, an acrophobe whose brother died in a fall. Even less specific is the central kid, Chuck (Scott Wolf); about all that can be said of him is that, since he’s the narrator, he’s probably not going to drown. When people do drown, though, the impact is modest. In fact, considering that the storm scenes have more personality than most of the characters, it’s hard not to root for the waves, rain, and lightning.CP