Weak Story Wipes Out ‘Chasing Mavericks’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – After the initial disappointment that “Chasing Mavericks” wasn’t about the pursuit of John McCain archetypes – it’s political season, don’t you know – it was interesting to note that mavericks are water waves, and chasing them means surfing. Hang ten, dudes.

Basically this film is a watery “Karate Kid’ – complete with an appearance by Elisabeth Shue – that features surfboards instead of crane kicks. Gerard Butler is the “Mr, Miyagi” surfer dude, and he sports long locks and a California accent straight out of Scotland. Wasn’t “Endless Summer’ the last word in surfing movies? How about Frankie and Annette? “Chasing Mavericks” is a harmless diversion that has stiff dialogue, fuzzy character motivations, sudden death and the audacity to be based on a true story. Besides that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the movie? Oh, that’s in two weeks.

Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston) is a 1980s-90s working class boy in Santa Cruz, California, who has affinity for the waves. It turns out his mysterious neighbor Frosty (Gerard Butler) is a world class surfer, who “chases mavericks,” the huge waves that result from global warming (I think), and is a short drive away in a rickety VW van. When the boy grows into a Willie Aames-type teenager, he decides he must surf these waves, despite the vague difficulties of his mother Kristy (Elisabeth Shue).

Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston
Frosty (Gerard Butler) and Jay (Jonny Weston) Hang Ten in ‘Chasing Mavericks’
Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Frosty won’t let Jay touch the water until the proper training techniques are absolutely followed, including the writing of observational essays. The boy follows them to the letter, sacrificing his social life and quasi-girlfriend Kim (Levin Rambin), while Frosty continues to maintain a growing family with his wife Brenda (Abigail Spencer). When a sudden tragedy occurs, the chasing of the mavericks are in jeopardy, but somehow the boy who loved waves will also conquer them.

The similarities between “Chasing Mavericks” and “Karate Kid” stop at the casting of Elisabeth Shue (girlfriend in one, Mom in another). The legend of the film “Karate Kid” includes that it came out of nowhere, and had a driving force that was truly about the underdog. “Chasing Mavericks” has no basis in overcoming class or advancing through achievement, it’s just about riding the waves. Granted, that’s difficult, but once the maverick is ridden, what’s next? That was essentially the dull edge of this surf film.

Speaking of Elisabeth Shue, America is still rooting for her movie comeback. She still looks great, still has the “Shue Aura,” but in this film she is absolutely confused. As the Mom character, she has a penchant for oversleeping her job at the local Sears. Is it because of a bipolar disorder? Substance abuse? The heartbreak of psoriasis? The movie never explains what motivates her, or more importantly what doesn’t. Jay has to take care of her – he constantly speaks of her clean clothes in the dryer – but it doesn’t seem against his training regiment. Why bring it up then?

Gerard Butler makes some odd choices for his movie roles. He is obviously miscast as Frosty, he’s about as California surfer dude as Mitt Romney in leather at a biker bar. He has one expression in the film, it’s all about his knitted-brow anger. He’s a roofer, but is mad about that. He’s mad about having the perfect California earth mother wife, and he’s mad that he has to return to his house after surfing at 10pm and check on the kids. He’s mad about training Jay, and puts him through a series of rituals – in a complete rip-of from “Karate Kid” – that has nothing to do with surfing. Observation essays? Blow it out your reading glasses, Grandpa Grump.

Elisabeth Shue
Kristy (Elisabeth Shue) is Mom of the Surf in ‘Chasing Mavericks’
Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Another truly odd point to “Chasing Mavericks” is that its co-directed by Michael Apted – who has guided the famous “Up” series of documentaries (“49 Up,” “56 Up”), plus directed a Bond movie and “Coal Miner’s Daughter “ – and Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential,” “8 Mile,” “Wonder Boys”). It takes two notable directors to produce this watery fable? This truly smacks of two men who wanted a paid vacation. The film does look great, and the water cinematography is appropriately postcard, but where is the narrative consistency for chasing these mavericks? It took two directors not to find it?

And then, amazingly, it’s based on a true story. There was an actual Jay Moriarty and presumable an actual Frosty. Perhaps the real truth of him is that there wasn’t too much to his story. Boy sees wave, climbs on a surfboard, surfs it. Some things should just be shared around the beach bonfires, and not made into films.

“Chasing Mavericks” opens everywhere October 26th. Featuring Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston, Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer and Levin Rambin. Screenplay by Kario Salem. Directed by Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson. Rated “PG

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Vise's picture

A tiny bit of research would

A tiny bit of research would inform this review a great deal. Curtis Hanson had to leave the project due to extreme illness, Michael Apted came aboard to complete the project. Yes, there was a real Jay Moriarity, and yes, there is a very real “Frosty”. The contributions these men have made and continue to make to our community, and to those touched by the ripple effect of their lives (as human beings, not just as big wave surfers) cannot be dwarfed, not even by Mavericks…

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