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A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews Presents A MauiWatch Exclusive: “Aloha Surf Hotel” (2020)

Thanks to the opportunity given to me from both Barry Wurst (the founder of the Hawaii Film Critics Society) and Stefan Schaefer. I was blessed with seeing, one of the funniest movies to emerge from what was an overall sucky year. “Aloha Surf Hotel” from writer, producer and director Stefan Schaefer is a feel good and full of heart comedy. A locally produced and financed comedy, completely shot on Maui and starring one of Hawaii’s favorite funny men Augie T. In Schaefer’s film the laughs come fast, quick and had me in stitches. It has it’s hiccups but the one thing it never stops being is entertaining. “Aloha Surf Hotel” feels like a filmed, on an exotic location comedy that Adam Sandler use to make (the good ones). Like a Sandler comedy it has a lovable lead with a cast chock full of well known local and mainland stars. The world deserves to see how funny Angie T. is and here he gets a movie that he gets to call all his own. He plays that lovable slacker with his glory days behind him, who is everyone’s only hope to save the day.  “Aloha Surf Hotel” makes you smile and scratches the funny bone with hard earned laughs. In times like the one we’re facing now, what more could you really ask for? In the simplest terms, “Aloha Surf Hotel” is a local gem.

Everyone knows that Hawaii is one of the most gorgeous locations in the world. A top destination stop for tourists to unwind and have a memorable family vacation. But it’s not only a vacationer’s paradise, it’s also a filmmaker’s paradise as well. Hawaii’s varying landscapes can create scenes that resemble and fill in for South American rainforests, Irish countrysides and metropolitan cities (here’s looking at you Oahu). Add to that Hawaii’s perfect weather and you have the recipe for a well established film industry.

The first motion picture shown in Hawaii was in 1897. The following year would see the first movies to be filmed in the islands. But it wasn’t until 1913 when Hollywood would first sink its toes into Hawaii’s sands with two single-reel films, “Hawaiian Love” and “The Shark God”. Since then, film and television have become increasingly important ways to showcase the beauty, culture and homegrown talent of Hawaii to people around the world.

While there have been over 100 movies filmed in Hawaii over the last century. The past decade has seen quite a boost for motion pictures in Hawaii from reboot tv series like “Hawaii Five-O” and “Magnum P.I.” to major motion pictures like “Pearl Harbor”, “Tropic Thunder” and “Kong Skull Island” (there is just way too many more to name). One genre in particular has proved Hawaii to be the perfect backdrop to take place….romantic comedies (“Honeymoon In Vegas”, “50 First Dates”). Hawaii (Maui in particular) has now found it’s way for not a romantic comedy, but a new feel good and full of heart comedy called “Aloha Surf Hotel”. A locally produced and financed comedy, completely shot on Maui and starring one of Hawaii’s favorite funny men Augie T. 

Being born and raised here on Maui and being a cinephile all my life. I haven’t had the pleasure to really view locally made films. Not until I became a member of the Hawaii Film Critics Society and given the opportunity to view and critique locally made films and documentaries through the Made In Hawaii Festival. They both have helped expand my chance to view and learn more about locally made films. In 2018 I got to experience one of the best films of the year that was all locally shot and financed here in Hawaii called “Kuleana”. 

In fact “Aloha Surf Hotel” has a lot of connections to “Kuleana”, as many of the talented cast and crew are brought over to help put the new local comedy together. Stefan Schaefer who produced and starred as the evil villain Victor Coyle in writer and director Brian Kohne’s “Kuleana”, serves as the producer, writer and director of “Aloha Surf Hotel”. While Kohne is on board as an executive producer.

Collaborations by Schaefer and Kohne has also included “Get a Job” from 2011, a slapstick comedy featuring local music legend Willie K and actor/musician Eric Gilliom. “Aloha Surf Hotel” is a different kind of comedy versus “Get A Job”. Schaefer’s film is a sweet, good hearted, charming ode to Hawai‘i and the “Aloha Spirit”. Not to mention it’s really funny. The laughs come fast, quick and had me in stitches the first hour. While that first hour is a killer comedy, it loses a bit of steam a few minutes into the one hour mark. Although the laughs don’t come as frequently it still never stops being entertaining. 

Schaefer’s fourth film resembles of a filmed, on an exotic location comedy, like Adam Sandler’s comedies just with a smaller budget. Like a Sandler comedy it includes not just a lovable lead but a cast chock full of well known local and mainland stars. Kealani Warner, who just graduated from 8th grade at Kamehameha Schools Maui and had a featured role in Kuleana”, stars as Augie T.’s daughter in the film. Her real-life mom, Erin Warner makes an appearance as Augie T.’s disgruntled ex. Well-known local radio personalities Frank B. Shaner and Kathy Collins make an appearance as media commentators. 

YouTube star Alex Farnham, who hails from the Big Island is Shiv, a charlatan Yoga instructor and rival of Augie T. It’s a role that someone like Russell Brand or Hank Azaria would be accustomed to play. Farnham lays it on a bit thick in his characters accent and demeanor at first, but eases up as the movie progresses. TV actor Matt Corboy who appeared in some of the best shows on tv like: “The X-Files”, “Chicago Med” and “This Is Us”, just to name a few. Corby also starred in the George Clooney filmed in Hawaii drama “The Descendants”. Here he has a funny role as a not so great at his job weatherman in a nonprofit news program. 

Rounding out the supporting cast is Oahu’s Shawn Mokuahi Garnett of Hawaii 5-0 and Nickelodeon’s Daniella Monet and her real-life husband play a tourist couple who get a surf lesson from Augie T. Native Hawaiian actor of Hollywood, Branscombe Richmond (the man fought Steven Seagal!) is both the films producer and co-star as the hotel’s owner. The beautiful up and coming Hawaii born actress Taiana Tully, radiates the screen as a competitive surfer who is coached by Augie T. and competing in a surf competition. So far Taiana has appeared in two Hawaii based shows “Hawaii Five-O” and “Magnum PI”. I hope Hollywood comes knocking on her door because she has a screen presence to be the next Hollywood “IT” girl. 

Much of what works so well is the comedy written by Schaefer. A lot of his jokes and dialogue is made up of local slang, but is still easy enough to understand, that it will still come across clearly for all to laugh at, just as hard as I did. Schaefer’s comedy is brilliantly spit out through hilarious one-liners after another as their delivered by the great physical performance from Augusto Tulba (aka: Augie T). After 27 years of stand-up comedy, it’s great to see Augie T. getting his shot at a lead comedic role in a full length film. The world deserves to witness how funny he is and Schaefer’s film let’s him do that. The combination of Schafer’s writing and the performance from Augie T, reminded me of the films of Chris Farley. As Augie plays that lovable slacker with his glory days behind him, who saves the day. 

Augie gave his final major show earlier this year at the Neal Blaisdell Center on Oahu in order to focus on other goals, like serving his community in his announcement to run for Honolulu City Council. Mentored by Hawaii comedy legends Andy Bumatai and Frank De Lima. Augie T. went on to become the only local comedian to sell out the Blaisdell and to win two Na Hoku Hanohano awards.

In “Aloha Surf Hotel”, Augie T plays Tai Alonzo an ex-legendary surfer with dreams of big things ahead of him. Except a few years later, he’s divorced, broke, living in his van and his pro surfing days are long behind him. When he is forced to take a job at a family owned Hawaiian beachfront hotel, he not only becomes the surf instructor, the tennis pro, the yoga instructor, the handyman and plumber (don’t worry he has a college degree). He might even be what the Aloha Surf Hotel needs to be saved.

I do wish the films shooting locations were a bit more expanded to showcase the different t parts of the island. Instead the films shoot is mostly a singular shoot location that has been filmed mostly in Kihei at the Nona Lani cottages and Kihei Charter School. With Kanaha Beach, Waimea Bay and various Central Maui locations mixed in. 

I’d like to personally thank writer and director Stefan Schaefer for giving me the opportunity to see his funny, touching, and endearing film. Despite it’s slight hold up in it’s third act “Aloha Surf Hotel” makes you smile and scratches the funny bone with hard earned laughs. In times like the one we’re facing now, what more could you really ask for? In the simplest terms, “Aloha Surf Hotel” is a local gem. 

GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3.5 out of 5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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