CHASING MAVERICKS – The Review
Over the years we’ve seen several inspirational sports biography films. Certain sports seem to lend themselves to the cinema, like boxing with RAGING BULL and ALI, or baseball in THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and THE ROOKIE. But surfing’s a more difficult to convey on-screen. Many folks may harken back to the crude rear-projection sequences in camp 1960′s flicks like GIDGET, BEACH PARTY and their sequels. With documentaries like the first ENDLESS SUMMER, new film technology allowed for an up close look at the surf pros. CHASING MAVERICKS is the dramatic life story of one of those pros: Jay Moriarty. In a way this is similar to a superhero story. Instead of getting a uniform and shield, we see how Jay got his wetsuit and board. It also has an element of the wise elder training the young upstart. Think Mr.Miyagi in THE KARATE KID films and the various Jedi masters in the STAR WARS series. Perhaps, more than the other genres, MAVERICKS is a true family film with sons discovering fathers in the unlikeliest of settings (and vice-versa).
We first meet Moriarty timing the waves as they break on shore in 1987. While rescuing the pooch of his slightly older pretty neighbor Kim, the eight year-old lad is swept up by the current. Before the sea claims him lil’ Jay is pulled up by super surfer dude “Frosty” Hesson (Gerard Butler). Driving the kids back home, Jay is stunned to find out that his rescuer lives right down the street. Soon the boy is pulling out his father’s old surfboard out of the garage (Dad has been absent for a while) and hitting the beach. Cut to 1994 as teenage Jay (Jonny Weston) secretly hitches a ride on top of Frosty’s van and observes the surfer pro and some pals going to a secluded section of beach that is home of the “mavericks” (giant, monster waves). After he’s discovered, Jay begs Frosty to teach him out to ride the mavericks. The elder surfer begrudgingly agrees and for the next several months Jay balances his school work, pizza job, keeping his boozy Mom (Elisabeth Shue) focused on her job, and pursuing the lovely grown-up Kim (Leven Rambin) with his passion for training in order to tame those truly killer waves.
This is a sweet little underdog tale accented with some truly spectacular photography of these athletes. We get all angles (including underwater), and these thirty and forty-foot swells looming over the surfers are really breath-taking. The film makers do their best to help us focus in on the principals (it’s a big problem with all the similar boards and wetsuits). On land some of the subplots don’t quite play off and disrupt the momentum of the main surf-training story. The romance of Jay and Kim seems to be a given with some minor obstacles (she doesn’t want her pals to know that she likes this guy that’s a couple years younger!). And the concerns about Jay’s pal Blond hooking up with a bad crowd (he may be dealing drugs!) never has a real resolution. When a major tragedy blindsides a character it seems like it was thrown at the script from left field (perhaps this is what happened, true life being very untidy). As for the cast, Butler has toned down the aggression so prominent in the dismal rom-coms and gives us a hunky, often mellow surfin’ Yoda. His Frosty is a mentally absent father whose paternal nature is finally opened up by his young student. On the other end is Shue’s character who also is put on the right course by her son’s determination. It’s always a pleasure to see this veteran actress again on screen, but the role is somewhat underwritten. We never really get to see her pushing away from the bottle. Weston is a likeable, if somewhat bland (perhaps, the way his role is written) hero. The script may be too respectful of this real life surfing icon. He’s more of a noble ideal than a true human being complete with flaws and frailties. CHASING MAVERICKS is a well shot profile of the sport and one of its heroes, but the people are not nearly has compelling as the images of those brutal, but beautiful waves.
3 Out of 5 Stars