'Chasing Mavericks'

Surfing is an inherently cinematic thing. Azure waves bordered by foam. A human being bombing through the ripcurl on a neon-colored oblong object. The will-they, won't-they stay standing drama. The slight possibility of death lingering in the background. It's not difficult to make a halfway decent film when you've got this sort of thing going for you. Conversely, it's not easy to elevate one beyond those basic elements.

This is the trap Chasing Mavericks falls in to. It has the cinematic qualities you might expect. Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston) is a talented young surfer hellbent on taking on the biggest waves -- the mythic "Mavericks" that slam into the Southern California shoreline from heights equivalent to three- and four-story buildings -- and he sets after them with the help of sage surfing veteran and Frosty (Gerard Butler), who fortuitously happens to be his next-door neighbor.

Jay is a bright-eyed teenager from a semi-broken home; he's often the caretaker rather than his mother Kristy (Elisabeth Shue). Frosty, meanwhile, is coming to grips with age and his burgeoning family and what that means for his thrill-seeking ways. Not surprisingly, they each have something to teach each other as they bond over big waves. Butler is wooden and unconvincing, while Weston, a newcomer, seems to possess considerable charisma. For something like half of the movie, the positives and negatives of the performances hardly seem to matter because it's so entertaining to watch tiny Stunt-Gerard and Stunt-Jonny (I assume) wrangling with mammoth waves.

Unless you're part of the surfing subculture, you probably won't know that Jay Moriarty was quite real and quite the surfer until he drowned at age 22 in a diving accident. There is a vague reference by Weston's Moriarty to his own mortality, and Butler's Frosty strafes around the push-pull of pursuing the next big rush and caring for his own family for almost the entire film, but there's never much in the way of serious meditation on the subject. Had Chasing Mavericks more closely examined the motivations of both characters in this regard it might have been a more memorable tale. We'll always have those massive waves, though, I suppose.