I’m not convinced that Chasing Mavericks ever had the chance to be a quality film. Its script is too schmaltzy and clichéd for that — and the prospect of a movie revolving around the tao of surfing isn’t exactly the most exciting concept. But any chance Mavericks had of transcending such shabby origins died when the film’s original director Curtis Hanson had to be replaced in the middle of production by Michael Apted due to apparent health reasons. This isn’t to say Hanson’s a greater director than Apted (it’s been quite a while since either was steeped in the glories of their own heyday), but there are certain thematic concerns — namely ones which center around the idea of life, death and loss, and how we deal with it all — that just sort of pop in and out of the narrative with an unevenness that might have been cured with a single, solitary directorial vision. So a movie that wants to be about something (at least within the confines of its existence as inspirational pap) winds up being a dull mess of a film.
Mavericks purports to tell the true life story of surfer Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston, John Dies at the End). Strangely, the movie doesn’t inform you of its based-on-a-true-story trappings until a jarring coda to the end of the film which tells the story behind his death. The film covers just a short span of time in teenage Jay’s life, which to this point has been a series of struggles: poverty, a lazy, struggling mother (Elisabeth Shue) and a nonexistent relationship with his father. Being the type of film this is, we follow Jay as he overcomes these personal conflicts while he trains with his neighbor — a grizzled veteran surfer named Frosty (Gerard Butler) — to surf dangerous, massive waves called mavericks. Need it be mentioned that a father-son relationship grows between the two?
Much of the film slips into melodrama — a lot of it bordering on the after school special variety — including surprise deaths, hokey bullies and drug use (all of which are handled in the most unfortunately sincere and straight-faced of manners). This is soap of the PG variety — not many surprising or shocking things are really going to happen. At least, the film is professionally made, and — in the case of the outdoor shots — occasionally stunning. The only time Mavericks transcends anything more than workmanlike filmmaking comes from its early ‘90s alt-rock soundtrack. One scene — set to the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” — works surprisingly well, and ties into the film’s greater (if vague) themes of death. But moments like this are few and far between, which comes as a frustrating realization since such moments prove the film could have been something a bit more. Rated PG for thematic elements and some perilous action.
Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Asheville Cinema 14, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande