Review: Chasing Mavericks
PLOT: The true story of Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston)- who, as a teenager, was determined to conquer the Northern California Maverick waves- widely considered to be among the world’s deadliest surf spots. He’s trained by his Maverick-surfing neighbor, Frosty (Gerard Butler) - who’s trying to juggle his responsibilities to his young family with his all-consuming passion for surfing.
REVIEW: CHASING MAVERICKS has good intentions. Obviously producer/director Curtis Hanson saw in Moriarity’s life an uplifting underdog story- with many parallels to his own 8 MILE (although Moriarity comes off as a far nicer guy than Eminem did), including the pain of an absentee dad, an irresponsible, alcoholic mother (my childhood crush- Elizabeth Shue), and the stress of trying to overcome one’s lot in life by chasing your dreams.
Along the way- something seems to have gotten lost, as you’d be hard-pressed to watch the thoroughly average CHASING MAVERICKS and be convinced that this is from the same guy who brought us L.A CONFIDENTIAL, WONDER BOYS, and the previously mentioned 8 MILE. It just seems bland, and even a little lazy- which is unusual for Hanson. Part of the problem may be that Hanson had to duck out with two weeks of shooting still left due to some health problems, with Michael Apted being called in to finish shooting (they now share screen credit). Indeed, this does feel like more of an Apted film than a Hanson one, with Apted seeming, to me at least, like something of a journeyman as far as features go, although his UP series of documentaries are superb.
CHASING MAVERICKS, while not as disjointed as it could have been- considering it was started by one guy and finished by another, is a lot like a so-so movie of the week. Moriarity’s story is certainly inspirational to the surf culture, but concentrating the whole film on his early days, rather than the dramatic way his career ended (it’s acknowledged in a coda)- makes this feel pretty conventional. Jonny Weston, who was very good in a movie I saw at Fantasia this summer called UNDER THE BED is fine, if slightly bland as Moriarity- although given the legendary status he has in surf culture, he’s portrayed as a saint with no character flaws whatsoever. I’m sure Moriarity was a great guy- but certainly there must have been some wrinkles there, given that the guy is chasing the thrill of a wave that could very likely kill him. Then again, maybe I just don’t understand surf culture.
The top-billed Gerard Butler plays his mentor, the salty Frosty, and like Weston- he’s fine, but the role seems thinly written. We know he’s got a saintly wife (Abigail Spencer) and two cute kids, but again- the conflict between his family jockeying for attention over his waves could have gone deeper. As such, like Weston, he’s a little two-dimensional and bland. Meanwhile, oodles of time is spent on Moriarity’s crush on the popular local girl (as opposed to his outsider status), while a potentially interesting subplot about his best friend getting involved in the drug trade is ditched with barely any resolution.
As for the surf scenes, they’re good- but again, it feels like they could have been shot more dramatically, or in a way that conveys the mystique of the sport a little better, which was something Katherine Bigelow nailed in POINT BREAK, and even John Stockwell did a decent job with in BLUE CRUSH. This just feels all too ho-hum, although the period early-nineties tunes are nice.
While I can’t say I hated CHASING MAVERICKS, it still feels like a pretty minor entry into Hanson’s impressive filmography. Perhaps it’ll be more interesting to hardcore surfers or Moriarity devotees, but to the average bloke like me, it was OK, but that’s it.