An inspirational surfing drama that somehow fails to inspire – despite a strong cast and two top-notch directors – Chasing Mavericks details the relationship between 15-year-old Jay Moriarty (Weston) and his reluctant wave-riding mentor, Frosty Hesson (Butler). Based on true events, and featuring a number of famous surf rats rounding out the cast, this should, by all rights, be a triumphal crowd-pleaser, but the film flails around emotionally every time it exits the water for the landlocked, single-parent, missing-dad genericness that makes up the body of the storyline.
The mavericks of the title are the fabled monster waves spawned, as it turns out, by El Niño, and no one wants to learn to ride them more than young Jay. But before he can do that, he has to convince surly surfer Frosty to be his own personal Mr. Miyagi, keep his alcoholic mom (Shue) sober enough to get to work on time, and master the “four pillars.” Very Karate Kid, no? Yes, very. Although it may seem a disservice to the real Moriarty (who died young) and Hesson, Chasing Mavericks feels far less spectacular than it should. That’s not the fault of cinematographers Oliver Euclid and Bill Pope – who use every trick in the book to show the epic magnificence of the mighty Pacific – but rests squarely at the feet of screenwriter Kario Salem, who goes for maudlin melodrama over the visceral vibe of the surfers and their Zen-like devotion to the sport.
If you’ve seen the 2006 Nick Nolte vehicle Peaceful Warrior, then you’ve pretty much already seen this. Capturing the essence of surfing – or any sport, for that matter – is more often than not a fool’s errand. A more fitting tribute to Moriarty’s legacy? Go buy a board and hit the deep blue yourself.