Short on inspiration but long on after-school-special blandness, Chasing Mavericks is the true story of surfing phenom Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston), whose legacy still reverberates throughout the coastal California surfing community where he grew up.
Often shunning the competitive nature of the sport for the pure spiritual pleasure of surfing, Moriarty was widely regarded a Soul Surfer with a kind heart, an infectious awareness of his surroundings, and a deep respect for the people and places he encountered while surfing. In other words, the perfect figure around which to build an underdog sports story that draws from the curious inspiration of the surf culture.
But while directors Michael Apted (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) manage to capture the kid’s triumphant spirit, Kario Salem’s anemic script lets everyone down by failing to bring anything big or remotely authentic to the party. The danger never feels real, Moriarty is portrayed with absolutely no character flaws at all, and all the peripheral characters are so thinly written we’re never quite able to completely invest in the emotional attachments necessary for our full commitment to the story’s outcome. We’ve seen the mentor-pupil-underdog story before in films like The Karate Kid and Million Dollar Baby, but unlike those films, we’re never quite worked into an exhilarating, fist-pumping tizzy with Chasing Mavericks and are subsequently spared that thrilling lump-in-the-throat sports emotion.
The story focuses on a narrow 12-week period in the short life of 16-year-old Jay Moriarty, specifically the 3 months he was given by neighbor and fellow surfing enthusiast Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler) to prepare himself to ride the big waves of “Mavericks” off the shore of Santa Clara, California. Largely believed to be a myth, the surfing spot wasn’t even widely acknowledged until the early ‘90s, so, with hopes of preserving the site’s mysterious allure, teacher and student must prepare in secret for what is to become the young surfer’s initiation to both surfing and life.
The initial relationship between Frosty and Jay is mentor and pupil as young Jay is put through the rigors of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual preparation needed to conquer the big waves of Mavericks. But as the story develops, their bond naturally complicates when Jay sees in Frosty the father who left the family when Jay was a young child. But we soon discover that Frosty’s strength isn’t as solid as initially thought when Jay must eventually come to his mentor’s emotional aid.
It wouldn’t be out of line to expect a less than stellar performance from the bushy-tailed Weston who is making his feature film debut here, but a flat go from Butler - who never busts through the withdrawn, glassy-eyed shell of his distant Frosty – is indeed unexpected. While both characters have incomplete, broken pasts in sore need of repair, neither actor convinces with any amount of depth of emotion or boldness of personality. As a result, we get exactly what we might expect from a network movie of the week, which is extremely disappointing considering Apted and Hansen’s body of work includes L.A. Confidential, The River Wild, and 8 Mile.
One of the few decisions that does work however, is playing The Butthole Surfer’s Pepper over a slo-mo surfing action sequence. The song’s slightly surreal sound and morose lyrics provide a nice compliment the scenes of death-defying water acrobatics. And to be fair, the third act’s money shot is actually a quite effective, albeit highly dramatized, depiction of Moriarty’s fateful first trip down the face of a raging, froth-topped blue giant. If only an equal amount of attention had been paid to the preceding 90 minutes.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some perilous action.
Runtime: 116 mins.
Director: Michael Apted, Curtis Hanson
Writer: Kario Salem
Cast: Gerard Butler; Jonny Weston; Elizabeth Shue; Abigail Spencer
Genre: Sports | Drama
Tagline: Legends Start Somewhere
Memorable Movie Quote: "Have you ever felt like you were meant for something more?"
Distributor: Fox 2000 Pictures
Official Site: www.livelikejay.com
Release Date: October 26, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: Surfer Jay Moriarity sets out to ride the Northern California break known as Mavericks.