Directed by Michael Apted (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and Curtis Hanson (the latter having to drop out in the last few weeks of shooting for health reasons), they have done an admirable job of making the film feel like a unified vision despite the shared duties at the helm of this ship. After a brief introduction to an adolescent Jay learning to stand up on his board, we fast forward to him at 16 (played by newcomer Jonny Weston) – on the cusp of all the typical changes that occur for a boy that age: desire to please a father figure, first love, ambition to be truly great at something in their lives.
That father figure comes in the form of Gerard Butler. There’s never any explanation for the Scottish accent that’s absent from the real life Rick “Frosty” Hesson but hey, it’s a movie and I can go along with the suspension of disbelief as well as the next person. His role is that of a de facto paternal presence for Jay, who himself has had to become the man of his house due to Mom (Elisabeth Shue) not coping with the abandonment of her husband in the most constructive manner (this is just one of the many paint-by-number elements in the script).
As the film unfolds, Jay’s ability to approach big wave surfing improves and the audience is treated to some truly awesome ocean photography. The love story between Jay and his childhood sweetheart and a short-lived conflict between him and other local teens feel like inclusions purely to fill out a screenplay Mad Libs, but those elements satiate mass audiences and are the kinds of cinematic platitudes one might expect in a movie like this.
The performances all around are decent, though due to the glossy nature of the picture, don’t expect too much more than the light scratching at the surface that’s put on display. Where the film excels are in its visuals, utilizing the beautiful Santa Cruz area and shorelines in the vicinity to great effect. While it wouldn’t have the cachet of a big Hollywood movie, a documentary about Moriarity’s famed big wave surfing would have been more welcome to myself, but deciding to dramatize events rather than compile footage and conduct interviews is just so much cooler (that scent in the air is the salty sea air mixed in with a heavy tinge of sarcasm).
The Bottom Line
Had someone told me this was a Disney sports film, I would have completely believed them. It follows all the similar beats and casually ties up each character’s arc in a neat little bow by the end. If anyone wonders what a film critic means by a “safe” movie, look no further.
Weston does a nice job playing the eager student to Butler’s gruff mentor figure and the surfing shots are rather spectacular – reminiscent of documentaries like Riding Giants and Step Into Liquid. That the actors did most of the surfing themselves is an added bonus as well, limiting that awful face replacement CGI trickery used in other mainstream surf movies (Blue Crush, I’m looking at you).
If you’re a surfer who wants to see some big waves, this makes sense. If you’re a sucker for formulaic sports movies, this makes sense. However, if you’re not either and you have a gag reflex for cheesy character development and plot resolution, this doesn’t make sense. No matter which category you fall into, and as competently executed a film it may be, there’s nothing so amazing that sets Chasing Mavericks apart and this will likely end up little more than a polite movie to be shown on afternoon cable in a few months.
Chasing Mavericks is rated PG for thematic elements and some perilous action.
Theatrical Release: October 26, 2012