“Chasing Mavericks” is a few stories ties into one. It’s the coming of age of Jay Moriarty. It’s a father-figure-and-son story, but most of all it is a wet and wild surfing tale about conquering the biggest and most dangerous waves on earth.
Based on the life of award-winning surfer and adventurer Moriarty, “Chasing Mavericks” begins when eight-year-old Jay discovers his love of surfing after he almost accidentally drowned. Rescued by Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler), who scoops him from the sea’s watery clutches and paddles him to safety on a surfboard Jay immediately becomes hooked. Cut to seven years later. Jay (Jonny Weston) is an accomplished surfer, but when he learns about the Mavericks, 25-80 foot waves that break near his Santa Cruz home, he becomes obsessed with conquering them.
With his father nowhere in sight, Jay looks to Hesson as a mentor. Hesson is also a local surfing legend who knows the power of the big waves and realizes if he doesn’t help Jay along, the boy could get hurt attacking the waves unprepared. “Untrained boiys don’t step in the ring with Mike Tyson,” he says, mixing his sports metaphors.
“Chasing Mavericks” is aw-shucks-golly-corny, complete with a Mr. Miyagi figure and inspirational life lessons. The melodrama builds throughout, accompanied by tin-eared dialogue about being “children of the sea” and “feeling the abyss.”
There’s not much here that doesn’t feel contrived, and yet, somehow it mostly works. It’s a bit too long and several of the story unnecessarily splinters off into subplots about a friend with a drug and attitude problem, Jay’s mom’s (Elisabeth Shue) life issues and a high school crush, but somehow you know all these obstacles will be overcome because that’s the kind of movie this is.
I would say “Chasing Mavericks” would work recommended on VOD or as a rental, except that the surfing footage is quite spectacular and deserves to be seen on a big screen. The sappy sentimentally, however, is perfect for home viewing.