There is something noble about Jay Moriarity, the main character in the new film, “Chasing Mavericks.” Jay is eight when the story begins but despite his youth, he fervently wants to learn how to surf. He insists.
He starts surfing at that age but when the story jumps ahead seven years, he has become great at the sport. Played by Jonny Weston as a teen, Jay is as ambitious and enthusiastic about the sport as he ever was.
Based on a true story, the majority of “Mavericks” takes place with Moriarity as a responsible teen who takes care of his mother Kristy (Elisabeth Shue) much more than she takes care of him. Jay’s passion is surfing, and he finds every occasion he can to get to the beach. One day, he follows his free-spirited neighbor Frosty (Gerard Butler) to the shore and sees Frosty surfing with his friends in the Mavericks, which are massive waves that are considered a myth by many who don’t know better.
Jay decides that he wants to surf the Mavericks more than anything.
He eventually enlists the dispassionate support of the petulant Frosty. Frosty agrees to teach Jay knowing that the teen will attempt to surf the dangerous waves with or without his assistance. Jay, Frosty understands, would likely drown without a mentor guiding him along.
Like sports mentors in many films before this one, Frosty tries to show Jay that surfing is about more than the ride itself. It’s about discipline. It’s about observation. And it’s about preparation.
The training scenes offer some of the best sequences the otherwise lackluster film provides. Frosty guides, scolds and teaches Jay like a father would. Jay, who lives with his single mother, quickly forms a warm bond with his teacher, whose love of surfing is comparable to his own.
“Mavericks,” which succeeds in the water, surprisingly has little to offer on the land. For one, Jay’s relationship with his mother is never fully fleshed-out. At first, she can barely wake herself up in the morning to get to work. Eventually, though, she’s up first and getting a job promotion for her work ethic. This sudden change of personality is one of the issues that infects this family drama.
Another great flaw in the film is its heavy and unfortunately trite reliance on high school clichés. Jay inevitably has a silly romantic subplot with one of the girls at school and is bullied by Sonny (Taylor Handley), a local jerk who has it out for the main character. Worst of all, there is yet another preachy over-the-top subplot about one of Jay’s friends buying drugs from a shady party behind the pizza joint where the two work. This, like most of the film’s useless subplots, comes from nowhere and ends abruptly.
"Chasing Mavericks" is based on a true story but when the reality of Jay's journey is ultimately revealed, the power of the film’s message falls apart. This is a movie that seeks to inspire, but the real story stumbles over that idea. Knowing what really happened to the person that the main character is based on will likely change your thoughts on the film.
Surfing fans may enjoy “Mavericks” but it ultimately leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Sometimes, when it comes to surfing, it’s better to just stay on land.