Chasing Mavericks screened after WW press deadlines, but we dispatched a critic to scope it out. Does this surfer flick hang ten? Not quite.
Critic's Grade: C-
Learning to surf is supposed to be difficult—I’ve tried. So when a snotty eight-year-old, Jay Moriarty (Cooper Timberline), catches and stands on his first try in one of the opening scenes of Chasing Mavericks
, I saw the wave of joy on his dewy face as the shit-gobbling smile of a lucky dilettante—even if this is based on a true story. Okay, he is fatherless and his mother (Elisabeth Shue) is as passively alcoholic as she is cheerfully excusing herself from her parenting responsibilities. And technically, it wasn’t his first time on a wave: He’d been rescued from the breakers via surfboard by Frosty, a local surf master played by Gerard Butler. But when the action jump-cuts from 1987 to 1994 and Jay (now Jonny Weston) has suddenly become a teen surfing prodigy, the film’s already low marks for plausibility plummet even deeper.
When teenage Jay spies the 40-plus-foot Mavericks surf break, he begs Frosty to help him surf there; their grueling training comprises the film’s primary focus. But wait a minute, now an insignificant character is bullying Jay? And Frosty is a masochistic handyman? And Jay is in love with Kim (Leven Rambin), a popular girl who won’t talk to him in public? This film is The Karate Kid with a slightly cooler Daniel and an emotionally infirm Mr. Miyagi.
I’m not even sure I’d take the comparison that far. The continuity of the plot and characters may convince a young teen with one eye on the screen and the other on his date’s slowly encroaching hand, but most moviegoers will be left raising their eyebrows and checking their watches. For one, Kim looks much older than Jay—creepily older. The true series of events has been chopped and screwed Hollywood-style. One character, for example, drops dead with a loud clunk, having previously spent about two minutes on-screen. Sharks are cheesily reflected in visors, songs by the Offspring and Butthole Surfers play, and cannabis use is strictly frowned upon (by Jay, at least). Clichés are pulled from an admittedly large grab bag, but glued together hastily and awkwardly.
Let’s get one thing straight: As claimed on the Chasing Mavericks official site, it features “some of the most mind-blowing real wave footage ever captured on film.” Surfers are shown numerous times catching and failing to catch massive walls of water, though the characters are difficult to keep straight during the more extended sequences. Seeing tiny surfers teetering atop these walls inspires some respect for the real Jay and his story. This may be a small saving grace, except that the messianic respect heaped on Jay and Frosty without a hint of irreverence will leave viewers wondering what’s underneath the surfboard wax.
Jay asks Kim, “Have you ever felt like you were meant for something more, something bigger than you?” I’ll sleep soundly knowing this film wasn’t meant for anything more.