Gerard Butler's 'Chasing Mavericks': A bit of a wipeout
Posted October 26, 2012
No, this is not a movie about pursuing Sarah Palin.
Chasing Mavericks is about surfin' USA -- specifically some of the biggest breakers on the continent. Mavericks is the name of a huge surf break near Santa Cruz, Calif., reaching up to 25 to 35 feet in peak times. Those waves are the uncontested stars of the movie.
The film is based on the true story of surfing legend Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston) and his friendship with Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler in a bushy blond hairdo). Nothing about Chasing Mavericks (* * stars out of four; rated PG; opens Friday nationwide) deviates much from the inspirational sports playbook.
Frosty is Jay's guardian angel in a wetsuit, saving 8-year-old Jay's life when the boy falls into roiling waves. The film skips ahead seven years to Jay as a surfing teen and all-around good kid, whose risk-taking proclivities on surfboards and skateboards don't translate to other areas of his life. He dutifully takes care of his single mom (Elisabeth Shue), making sure her work uniforms are clean and that she's up and ready for work on time. Shue almost literally sleeps through her part. Her character spends half of her screen time passed out in bed, presumably exhausted from work, drunk or depressed.
Unnecessary moments of silly conflict are thrown in for no good reason in the form of some local thugs who refer to Jay as "trash" and uselessly taunt him. There's enough real conflict in Jay's life with an absentee dad and a tuned-out single mom who loses a succession of jobs. Why muck up a good story with forced, small-time obstacles?
Everything centers on Jay's passionate desire to surf the Mavericks surf break, dubbed the Loch Ness Monster of surfing by Frosty for its near-mythic status. But not only are these waves frighteningly real, they're only a few miles from Jay's Santa Cruz home.
When Jay asks Frosty for help training to take on Mavericks, the older surfer initially dismisses him. Cue Frosty's ever-supportive wife Brenda (Abigail Spencer), painted as wise as the Oracle at Delphi. "You just don't get it, do you," Brenda gently chides, explaining to Frosty that fathers come in all guises. And since Jay's dad is AWOL, Frosty has a chance to partially fill that role.
Unfortunately, Chasing Mavericks spends too much time feeling like a watery Karate Kid. In the vein of Pat Morita's "Wax on, wax off," Frosty offers homespun advice that is, not surprisingly, weightier than it appears. He doles out chores that Jay completes without complaining. He even assigns Jay a couple of essays, though Frosty hardly seems like the professorial type. We do, however, get a sense of Jay's unflagging drive.
None of this rings particularly true. Or at the very least it feels embellished for the big screen. No doubt Frosty and Jay had a special friendship, and the older surfer must have offered Jay some useful surfing pointers. But the scenes of assignments, platitudes and exercises grow tedious. When the film heads out to the churning sea, things get more interesting.
Ultimately the story of Jay Moriarity, who died tragically in a diving accident at 22, is a moving one, and he deserved a better tribute than this film, directed by Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted.
With the massive power and mesmerizing curl of the giant waves, Chasing Mavericks is at its best offshore.
Latest in Entertainment