“Chasing Mavericks” is a true story where you really want to root for the
surfer kid who wants so badly to catch that one, big, giant, Maverick wave.
But the stilted production gets in the way.
Jonny Weston plays Jay Moriarty, and though he’s had a little acting
experience, he’s a much better surfer than actor. And will somebody please
tell make-up that they’re putting it on too thick?
Gerard Butler, playing the mentor Frosty Hesson, obviously has the requisite
acting experience, and he can sit on his thick Scottish brogue sufficiently to
play the aging Californian surfer dude, but somehow when he tries to act like
a gruff curmudgeon it just comes across as a mean-spirited jerk, except in one
of the last scenes, where he gets uncharacteristically misty-eyed, which
presumably makes up for all his previous prickliness.
Abigail Spencer, playing Butler’s wife, is actually 12 years younger but
looks about 25 years younger, and they never really explain how she has a
teenager and a baby at the same time. She’s the mature one with the calming
influence and helpful relational advice, but she also seems to enable her
husband/boyfriend (we’re never sure which) to be an aging hippie beach bum.
And she seems the least likely to have the sudden health issues, the inclusion
of which seems unnecessarily maudlin.
They try, gamely, to set up Jay Moriarty as a really nice boy with a terrible
home life: his Mom (played by Elisabeth Shue) begins as a dissolute drunk, but
by the end has somehow straightened herself out, without help from anyone,
which seems unlikely. Jay’s best friend at school seems to be running with
the wrong crowd, but by the end has become an unabashed fan of Jay’s
quixotic quest to be a local surfing legend. Even the school bully (Taylor
Handley, who is 28 and a decade too old for this role) comes around to root
for Jay, along with the stuck-up high school beauty (played by Leven Rambin)
who suddenly professes her undying love for him, on the eve of his big
Yes, El Nino has produced the possibility of 30-foot waves, and if you fall
and hit the water, says Frosty, it’s like hitting concrete at 50 miles per
hour. Plus, the undertow can keep you submerged for up to four minutes, and
the strong current can pull you into the rocks. But Jay Moriarty is
determined, and he practices holding his breath during class so that he
suddenly passes out and crumples to the floor. He works at the local pizza
place and saves money for his special equipment. And he practices “becoming
one” with the ocean, which the “real” Jay Moriarty apparently did a
little too much of seven years later, but we don’t find that out until the
We all know how this movie is going to end: Jay Moriarty conquers the big
beast of the giant wave, and becomes an instant celebrity in the surfer
culture, because apparently there were enough people around to witness it and
photograph it. So, by some magic combination of skill, luck, courage, and
recklessness, we now know his name. But this film is an awkward fame vehicle,
even after the fact. It’s a shame they had to switch Directors in the middle
of filming, because it feels contrived and cloying and formulaic, not to
And at the end you have to ask yourself: is this quest for the perfect wave
really worth dying for?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas