In the surfing community, perhaps no location is considered as notorious as Mavericks, an inlet off the coast of Northern California that is home to some of the biggest waves in the world, and therefore, to some of the sport’s most daring athletes.
It provides the backdrop for the true-life drama Chasing Mavericks, which tries to explain the allure of the ultimate big-wave destination through the story of teenage phenom Jay Moriarty.
But the film is unlikely to be considered alongside such classic surf movies such as The Endless Summer and Riding Giants, While visually it captures the combination of grace and excitement in the water, the film drowns amid a sea of coming-of-age cliches.
In the film, Jay (Jonny Weston) grows up during the early 1990s in a seaside town not far from Mavericks, where he watches accomplished surfers such as his neighbor Frosty (Gerard Butler) ascend swells of 20 feet of more in search of a thrill.
Wanting to become the next in a line of surfing icons, Jay asks Frosty to mentor him in his quest to become one of the youngest to conquer Mavericks. Frosty reluctantly agrees to train and mentor him, remaining unconvinced that the youngster has the necessary mental or physical fortitude.
The film is directed by Curtis Hanson (Wonder Boys), who became ill during production while Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough) finished shooting. It suffers from a melodramatic script by Kario Salem (The Score) that can’t decide whether to stay focused in or out of the water.
Jay’s story is filled with formulaic teen angst and wish-fulfillment fantasies, and likewise his relationships are predictable with his troubled single mother (Elisabeth Shue), his childhood sweetheart (Leven Rambin), his drug-dealing co-worker (Devin Crittenden), and his bullying rival (Taylor Handley).
Then there’s Frosty, who constantly spouts pearls of wisdom about tides, currents and fear of sharks in the style of Mr. Miyagi. But instead of having Jay sand the floor or paint the fence, it’s hold your breath and write an essay.
Chasing Mavericks shows some visual flair and manages some exciting moments, but its cliches and embellishments suggest that maybe a documentary treatment of the same subject might have been preferable, allowing it to ride the wave of its predecessors.
Rated PG, 115 minutes.