By Gary “Big Kahoka” Murray
Starring Johnny Weston, Gerard Butler and Elizabeth Shue
Written by Kario Salern
Directed by Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson
Running time 2 hrs
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Surfing is more of an art form than a true competition sport. The combination of rider and board going down a mountain of water is as graceful as ballet. These guys spend years chasing the biggest and best breaks to test their endurance and skills. In the film Chasing Mavericks, we see how this obsession starts and manifests itself.
The story is of Jay Moriarty. The film starts in Santa Cruz in 1987 when he is a child, watching the surf break against the shoreline. Suddenly a dog falls into the brink. He tries to save the pooch and falls into the cold water himself. Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler) a local surfer pulls Jay on his board and surfs him to shore. This is the spark that ignites the burning passion in the young man.
Flash forward seven years and Jay is now on the verge of becoming a man. Everyone in the town knows that he is one of the best wave riders around, but he is looking for more of a challenge.
One night Jay sees Frosty strapping his board to his old van. He jumps on the roof, finding out that Frosty and a small group of surfers have discovered a huge swell of maverick waves, breaking stories tall. Most surfers believe that maverick waves are a myth, like the Loch Nest Monster. Jay now knows that it is true and has to ride those waves.
So, Frosty very reluctantly begins to teach Jay all of the skills needed to ride mavericks. He must master the four pillars of taking on big waves—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. As this fifteen year-old finds his way to manhood, he also discovers some deeper truths about himself. It is a journey of finding out the difference between fear and panic.
But the story is not only of surfing. Jay is from a broken home and his mom (Elizabeth Shue) struggles to keep a roof on their heads. With a Gremlin parked in the drive-way, it is easily inferred that they are barely making ends meet. Jay has to give his mother money to keep going. It is not the best of an existence.
Jay also has a crush on the slightly older Kim, the girl he has dreamed of since he was a boy. The story of Chasing Mavericks is of their budding romance, something that both try to deny. Frosty’s wife Brenda (Abigail Spencer) explains to the man that he is the father figure that young Jay has been looking for.
The entire film culminates in Jay getting his chance to ride a maverick wave. The payoff is a wonderfully photographed bit of surfing magic. Michael Apted took over the shooting of Chasing Mavericks from Curtis Hanson. Whoever was behind the lens captured the beauty and majesty of surfing much the same way Endless Summer did years ago. This is yet another film that could spurn a new generation of surfers. He also picks some of the greatest summer songs for his soundtrack.
The film is written by Kario Salern. The work feels honest but the structure of the film is very old fashioned, like the kind of film one would see decades ago. Any person who has seen a movie knows exactly where all the characters are going to end up without much of a surprise.
I can easily see young Johnny Weston becoming a teen heartthrob for the younger set. He has a winning smile and piercing gaze, the kind of poster-boy look that the girls love to look at. He does a nice job of acting here but there is not much of a challenge to the role.
Though it is a small part, Abigail Spencer shows some real emotions in her role as Brenda. She is the understanding wife of a man obsessed. It is a nice little turn that should generate her more roles.
Gerard Butler is the focus of the film and he comes across as a cross between Yoda and Mr. Miyagi. As he dispenses his wisdom to his young charge, he also discovers hidden parts of himself.
Chasing Mavericks is a very old school film in a modern world. It is not a bad little work, but it is not a film that will set the world on fire. It is the kind of flick that one watches in the dead of winter when they are dreaming of warm summer days.