Netflix has been hitting all the marks. Maybe they’ve been hitting all the marks for a while and people are starting to pay attention. Either way, Netflix isn’t just a streaming company anymore. They are a filmmaking giant. Giant might be an exaggeration but if the shoes fit, Netflix is wearing it. The company has revitalized the romantic comedy. It took a few films but now that “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” has hit the airwaves and become a hit, we need another film to tide us over until “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” is released.
Is “SPF-18” that film? It all depends on how you look at it. There’s no doubt that Noah Centineo, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’s” Peter Kavinsky, looks good in a wetsuit as Johnny Sanders Jr. There’s no shortage of celebrity cameos, including one massively hilarious appearance by Keanu Reeves. There is also the wonderful cinemaphotography, spearheaded by new director Alex Israel. Despite all the good “SPF-18” left me wanting more.
Penny Cooper (Carson Meyer) and boyfriend Johnny (Centineo) got together after a surfing accident claimed the life of Johnny’s father. They’re in love but they’re not in “love” love. When Johnny gets the opportunity to house sit for Keanu Reeves, Johnny invites Penny and her cousin Camilla (Bianca Santos) to spend the summer on the beach in Malibu. What follows is a coming of age story punctuated by surfing, the arrival of Nashville singer Ash (Jackson White), and learning to follow your heart. Other cast members include Molly Ringwald, Goldie Hawn and Rosanna Arquette.
Unfortunately, the conflict in “SPF-18” wasn’t up to par enough to make it into a compelling film. I think that it comes down to the fact that the runtime for “SPF-18” is only an hour and fifteen minutes which isn’t long enough to effectively establish strong conflict. Maybe it would have worked had there been only two characters in the film but with the final total running at five, the film felt too bloated for the lean runtime.
The film establishes that Penny was the main character and Johnny was the second main character, but Johnny was quickly shuffled aside for Ash and sadly, the chemistry between Meyer and White wasn’t what it should have been. The chemistry between Santos and Centineo was off the chart once Camilla and Johnny got together but even their relationship was short-shifted. The film also would’ve done better had Camilla and Johnny been the focus. Penny and Ash weren’t all that memorable.
Aside from that, though, “SPF-18” does have some wonderful cinematography. Malibu is given a gorgeous, shiny gloss that almost makes me want to go find myself by the ocean and learn surfing. Israel has a keen eye for the atmospheric feel of a coming of age story and he brought in the mythology of Icarus too in strange ways but it somehow fit. I just wish the film was longer.