Superb are the waves but soggy is the human story in “Chasing Mavericks,” a biodrama about surfing star Jay Moriarity and the bond he formed with surfer Frosty Hesson, his mentor, father figure and friend.
Directorial credit is shared by two reputable old pros: Curtis Hanson, of “L.A. Confidential” fame, and Michael Apted, whose credits range from a 007 flick to the “7-Up” documentaries. Hampered by a cliched screenplay, they deliver superficial entertainment but little of the conviction, credibility or emotional charge that the story’s characters demand.
The drama focuses on a few months in the life of the teenage Moriarity (Jonny Weston), who in 1993, appears as a surfing-obsessed 15-year-old living in Santa Cruz with his struggling mother (Elisabeth Shue). Moriarity’s dad has abandoned them.
Next door lives Hesson (Gerard Butler): a seasoned surfer who has his own absent-parent issues, a supportive wife (Abigail Spencer) and, courtesy of Butler, an unexplained Scottish accent.
Moriarity and Hesson connect when Moriarity discovers that Mavericks, the huge waves of myth, actually exist — near Half Moon Bay. Determined to ride the Mavericks, Moriarity asks Hesson to help him prepare for the experience. Hesson, knowing that without his mentorship, Moriarity won’t survive, agrees.
As the training proceeds, Moriarity, who needs a father figure, and Hesson, who has trouble being one to his own kids, establish a meaningful father-son-type relationship.
Visually, the film conveys surfing’s thrills as well as the truism that nature operates without conscience and can be as deadly as it is majestic. The mammoth waves look treacherous and magnificent.
But in other areas, the film sinks.
The mentor-pupil dynamics are flat. “Fear is healthy, panic is deadly” is as deep as Hesson gets.
Whenever something complex or dark starts developing, Kario Salem’s screenplay halts it and serves up a contrived scenario: a sneering bully taunting Moriarity; the teen’s romantic feelings for schoolmate Kim (Leven Rambin).
The actors work no miracles. Butler doesn’t transcend the charisma level. Newcomer Weston, playing a protagonist too flawless for belief, suggests neither the immense drive and passion that led the real-life Moriarity to achieve his Mavericks triumph at age 16 nor the perhaps pathological attraction to danger that has caused surfers to die in pursuit of big waves.
The fate of Jay Moriarity, who died in a diving accident at age 22, isn’t allowed to resonate in this Hollywood production overly concerned with its hero getting the glory and the girl.
The film blows the chance to explore the surfer psyche and community. Documentaries such as Stacy Peralta’s “Riding Giants” have been more informative and compelling.
At closure time, the real Jay Moriarity appears in a clip. Radiating a force of character that would make you take note even if you didn’t know who he was, he demonstrates what this movie is missing.