Awe-inspiring images of giant, powerful waves rising toward the California coastline tower over Chasing Mavericks’ familiar, conventionally told coming-of-age story. There's a visceral charge in watching them roar toward land, bringing a whole lotta ocean power.
Chasing Mavericks as a film doesn't have quite the same force. There's nothing particularly surprising about it aside from those amazing waves, as the story it tells unfolds pretty much as we'd expect. But while its theme — about facing fears and challenges and overcoming them — isn't handled with much attention to nuance, it’s treated seriously enough by all involved to resonate.
Based on the life of surfer Jay Moriarty, Chasing Mavericks focuses on the need to accept fears and move on to bigger challenges. For 15-year-old Jay, that challenge takes the form of the legendary maverick waves that turn out not only to be real, but forming just miles from Jay’s Santa Cruz home. The teen finds a mentor in neighbor Frosty, a surfing enthusiast and father who had saved Jay’s life some years back. Though Frosty is married with a wife and kids, he’s hardly a family man, retreating into himself even when he’s home.
Jay and Frosty are drawn to the sea for the same reason — to escape their feelings of abandonment. But where Jay is a fresh-faced, sweet-natured kid who wants to open up, Frosty is true to his nickname, presenting a cold exterior. Jay, an accomplished surfer, looks to his neighbor to teach him how to ride the tall, powerful mavericks. It’s a task that Frosty doesn’t take lightly, fully aware of all the knowledge and skill required to survive those waves.
Gerard Butler (300, The Ugly Truth) brings energy, charisma and dedication to the role of Frosty — if not much subtlety. Newcomer Jonny Weston is ingratiating as Jay, with an endearingly positive demeanor. Together, their dynamic is interesting to watch, largely because of the father/son tension between them.Chasing Mavericks doesn’t capture the surfing lifestyle as much as the allure of surfing, and in that context, the footage is captivating. As a movie, however, this is vanilla stuff that remains interesting because of the training and lessons that lead toward Jay’s rite of passage.
Note: If it seems odd that this movie has two directors, Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) had to hand over directing duties to Michael Apted (Gorillas in the Mist) after complications regarding heart surgery.