Calling Chasing Mavericks a cross between Blue Crush and The Karate Kid seems a bit too easy.
But it’s a pretty good description of the film, which tells the story of real-life surfing phenom Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston), and his friend, mentor, and fellow surfer, Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler).
In the film, Jay is a Santa Cruz, Calif., teenager who enlists the help of local legend Frosty to train him to survive the mythic Mavericks surf break, one of the biggest waves on Earth (crests can range from 25 to 80 feet high). Frosty’s methods are not always what Jay expects — including when he’s asked to write thoughtful essays. (As Frosty explains, surfing is not just about physical athleticism, it’s about mental toughness, too.)
Chasing Mavericks was co-directed by Curtis Hanson (Michael Apted stepped in when Hanson took ill during production), and there are times when the film mirrors the arc of his tougher, grittier 8 Mile (the Eminem movie).
Unfortunately, it never fully makes good on that promise. Instead, it’s a coming-of-age tale that wants to be inspirational, but too often gets bogged down in clichés and unncecessary subplots about drug deals and Jay’s drunk, absentee mother (played by Elizabeth Shue, who is wasted here).
On the other hand, thanks largely to some truly impressive surfing photography that puts you right in the center of the action, Chasing Mavericks can be an enjoyable film at times. Credit for this goes to cinematographers Bill Pope and Oliver Euclid, and second-unit director Philip Boston (director of the surfing documentary Billabong Odyssey), who apparently spent six months capturing Mavericks’ waves’ power and fury. The surfing scenes make you really appreciate Jay’s skill and the seemingly insurmountable challenge those waves provide.
And then … SPOILER ALERT … right as the film reaches its emotional climax, reality steps in and brings the whole thing down to earth. One wishes the filmmakers had stuck less to the real-life script and ended the film on a happier note. Oh well. [END SPOILERS]
If Chasing Mavericks spent more time on the water and less on land, it might be more rewarding. But unfortunately, it’s a too-conventional outing that leaves its appealing leads — Weston and Butler — high and dry.
I’m giving the film a B–.
Have you ever gone surfing? I have. I’d love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment in the space below.