Susan Granger’s review of “Chasing Mavericks” (20th Century-Fox)
“We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea,” intones Gerard Butler, introducing the true, tragic story of Jay Moriarty, an intrepid surfer who survived a 1994 wipeout that landed him on the cover of Surfer magazine, only to die in 2001 in a free-diving accident in the Maldives, one day before his 23rd birthday.
Blustery Butler plays rugged California surfing daredevil Rick “Frosty” Hesson, who reluctantly agrees to train, strictly regiment and mentor his guileless yet determined, wave-riding 15 year-old Santa Cruz neighbor, Jay Moriarty (newcomer Jonny Weston), to get him – mentally and physically – prepared in only 12 weeks to ride some of the most gigantic waves on Earth: the monster, mythic Mavericks at Half Moon Bay during El Nino.
Filmmaker Michael Apted, who directed “Gorillas in the Mist,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and created the “Seven Up” documentary series, came in to take over from director Curtis Hanson, best known for “L.A. Confidential” and “8 Mile,” when Hanson became ill during the shooting. Utilizing the skill of cinematographer Bill Pope and a group of fearless stunt doubles, they manage to capture spectacular open-ocean footage but no one can rise above the generic, formulaic script by screenwriter Kario Salem (“Don King: Only in America,” “The Rat Pack”), based on a story by producers/surfing enthusiasts Jim Meenaghan and Brandon Hooper. The overly-reverential screenplay touches on but never delves into perseverant Jay’s absentee father, perpetually stressed-out/alcoholic single mom (Elisabeth Shue), best buddy (Devin Crittenden), attractive fiancée/wife (Leven Rambin) and wealthy bully/drug dealer (Taylor Handley) – while Chad Fischer’s musical score clearly punctuates every mood change.
It’s interesting to note that Frosty Hesson’s supportive, loving wife Brenda is played by 31 year-old Abigail Spencer, daughter of Pensacola, Florida’s late Gulf Coast surfing legend Yancy Spencer.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Chasing Mavericks” floats in with a bland, uninspiring 5, narrowly avoiding a wipeout.