‘Chasing Mavericks’ is great for surfers, but not everyone

Gerard Butler and Jonny Weston hit the waves in 'Chasing Mavericks'
Gerard Butler and Jonny Weston hit the waves in ‘Chasing Mavericks’

We’ve had films before with a “Maverick” in them.  One Maverick was an old West quick-draw/card-sharp who the ladies loved.  Another was a Navy fighter pilot with a big chip on his shoulder and a really bad attitude.  Now we have a new Maverick on the big screen, but this time it isn’t a person.  It’s a place in California that has gigantic waves that challenge the best of surfers.  It is known as either Mavericks or Maverick’s, so the title is accurate.

Chasing Mavericks is the story of one teen’s obsession with riding these waves and how doing so made him famous.  It’s based on the true story of Jay Moriarity, who is portrayed in the film by Jonny Weston.  Jay is the son of a father who has abandoned Jay and his mother, Kristy (Elisabeth Shue) and she has problems of her own.  She can’t hang on to a job, she drinks too much and she isn’t much of a parent to Jay.  Jay lives across the street from “Frosty” (real name Richard Hesson, played by Gerard Butler in the film) who is one of a very small group of men who surf at Mavericks and don’t want others to discover its existence.  Jay finds a way to follow Frosty there one morning and is amazed at what he sees.

Now Jay is an excellent surfer under normal conditions.  But what one gets at Mavericks is far from normal and he doesn’t have the tools to try it.  So he makes a deal with Frosty to train him for the task.  Along the way he will have issues with his best friend in the film, “Blondie” (Devin Crittenden), run-ins with some local “toughs” and have to deal with how he is treated by Kim (Leven Rambin).  She’s been close with him since they were young kids and she wants to be close friends with him.  But she snubs him when she’s hanging out with the “cool kids”.  Frosty isn’t too high on the idea of training Jay for surfing at Mavericks but his wife Brenda encourages him to take Jay under his wing.  She knows that Jay will surf Mavericks with or without her husband’s tutelage.

Surfers and fans of surfing will love this movie.  They will love the photography of the waves, the incredible rides that are shown and the display of the surf “culture”.  But those who aren’t surfers or fans of the sport will be disappointed.  The true story of Jay Moriarty is a compelling tale.  But the version we see, probably ‘enhanced’ by dramatic license loses some of that impact.  In reality it was his father who first introduced him to surfing.  The thugs he has to deal with are the worst sort of cliché and are there strictly to illustrate a strong moral compass within the hero.  Wesson is a good looking kid, but bears little resemblance to the real Moriarity.  Calling tropical cyclones near Japan “hurricanes” is the kind of technical error that would be easily avoidable with just a tiny bit of effort (they’re known as typhoons).

Butler broods on cue, suffers silently when appropriate and makes a good surfing-type mentor.   Wesson is easily believable as a charming kid who does the right thing always.  But in the end, this is really a film strictly for those who adore riding the waves or watching others hang ten.

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