Producers: Tyler Atkins, Jamie Arscott, Cathy Flannery, Jake Schwarz and Andrew Mann   Director: Tyler Atkins   Screenplay: Tyler Atkins and Drue Metz   Cast: Luke Hemsworth, Rasmus King, Isabel Lucas, Martin Sachs, Leeanna Walsman, Michael Sheasky and Savannah La Rain   Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Grade: C

Some agreeable actors, lovely locales and nifty surfing footage aren’t enough to save this meandering Australian coming-of-age tale.  Perhaps the fact that “Ocean Boy” (the title changed from “Bosch & Rockit” for its American release) is not only semi-autobiographical but a first feature by Atkins, a model and Australian reality-show TV personality, helps to explain why it’s generally nice but something of a mess, with lots of corny dialogue.

Luke Hemsworth gives a gruffly winning performance as Bosch, a rough-and-ready Aussie who’s turned his forested land into a pot-growing-and-distribution operation that he runs in partnership with callow cop buddy Keith (Michael Sheasky).  Unfortunately Keith sees fit to bring an older colleague, Derek (Martin Sachs), into the mix; Sachs insists that Bosch expand the business by adding cocaine distribution to his services.  Bosch protests but Derek gives him no choice.  Unfortunately, the farm is soon swallowed up in a raging bushfire, and though he tries desperately to save them, Bosch watches Derek’s cash and drug stash go up in flames. 

He has no choice but to run, but he’ll have company—his thirteen-year old son Rockit (cherubic newcomer Rasmus King), whom he’s been taking care of, to use the phrase loosely, since his alcoholic wife Elizabeth (Leeanna Walsman) walked out on them. He’s taught the boy to surf, but that’s about it: Rockit skips school to ride the waves, and the result is that he can’t even read.  He gets into fights with classmates who have nicknamed him Dum-Dum. 

Bosch explains the hasty departure to the naïve kid by telling him they’re off on a spur-of-the-moment vacation to Byron Bay, where they’ll hit the beach for months.  Once there Bosch meets Debbie (Isabel Lucas), on whom he lavishes his considerable roguish charm, while Rockit falls in with Ashley (Savannah La Rain), whom he calls Ash-Ash for a cutesy reason with a serious backstory.  The result is a real case of puppy love.

Of course things can’t go swimmingly for long.  Keith and Derek find Bosch, and the threats are on.  Rockit is caught up in the danger, and after telling him a tall tale about being a spy (which the boy actually believes), Bosch takes his son to stay with his mother, who turns out to be no better a parent.  Eventually Rockit finds his way back to Byron Bay and Ash-Ash, and secures a job on a fishing boat, proving a natural in the prawn trade.  He might have to raise himself, but his future is fairly bright, even with his parents out of the picture—at least for now.

This is not simply a sweet story, but it is told, for the most part, in a very sweet, indeed overly sweet, fashion.  The most abrasive part comes, surprisingly enough, in the portrayal of Elizabeth, a self-obsessed woman whose callousness toward not only Bosch but Rockit is pretty awful.  But even the crime aspect of the tale is treated without any real sense of menace, even though Keith points a gun at Bosch at one point; by contrast Sachs plays Derek in such an overblown fashion that the character becomes almost comic.  The tension the subplot is apparently intended to generate never materializes, and the entire thread ends not with a bang but a whimper.  Given that, it’s curious that Atkins chooses to toss in a couple of F-bombs; though they’re used in jocular fashion, they tarnish the movie’s credentials as clean-cut family entertainment.

Where the film scores best is in its surfing footage, nicely shot by cinematographer Ben Nott (with an assist in the underwater sequences from Shane Fletcher), and the rapport between Hemsworth and King on the one hand and King and La Rain on the other.  King is obviously still unformed as an actor, but his naturalness pays dividends, making the boy seem authentically someone trying to feel his way toward maturity.  Scott Gray’s editing has problems—the picture lurches from scene to scene without much rhythm or style—but David McKay’s production design captures both the grubbiness of most of the interiors and the breathtaking quality of the seaside exteriors.  Brian Cachia’s score is unremarkable.

“Ocean Boy” is heartfelt and earnest, but despite the affecting father-son relationship at its center and some nice performances, it doesn’t leave a very vivid impression.