The feel-good, teenage boy rite-of-passage pic set in the early Sixties has, in the Nineties, become a genre all of its own. The era of JF Kennedy is, after all, easy to invoke as white America’s age of innocence — a social-science lab purged of confounding variables where all the truisms about character, honour, manhood and all the rest of it can be put to the test and, QED, proved.
Requirements for the genre include a gaggle of chiselled adolescents who are each allowed one personality flaw, an adventure in which these personality flaws get ironed out, a tough father figure with a heart of gold, and the odd historical reference to JFK’s assassination and/or the first voyages into space and/or the Cuban crisis.
Normally, it only takes 90 minutes of ho-hum school-holiday movie fare to work through the checklist. White Squall, however, is directed by Ridley Scott, of Blade Runner and Thelma and Louise fame, who really ought to have known better.
This director of epics takes a popcorn theme and inflates it to epic proportions: art-house production values and art-house length. When you’re dealing with formulaic material, all seascapes and tropical-island adventures, art-house cinematography quickly congeals into kitsch. And a film over two hours long which adds nothing to themes that have already been thoroughly chewed over in less pretentious circumstances seems like a waste of time.