Like the daredevil teenage surfer whose incredibly true story is dramatised in this adrenaline-pumping biopic, Chasing Mavericks almost wiped out, but managed to ride its luck.
Director Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential) fell ill midway through production and Buckinghamshire-born filmmaker Michael Apted stepped in to complete the inspirational tale of one young man taming Mother Nature. They share credit for an overly reverential tale of rousing triumph against the odds.
Traumas behind the scenes haven’t generated any ripples on the big screen because Chasing Mavericks is an uplifting, if formulaic, sports movie that benefits greatly from breathtaking sequences on the water. Screenwriter Kario Salem restructures the facts into a snappier timeframe, and his affection for legendary surfer Jay Moriarity, who conquered the mythical Mavericks break in California at the tender age of 15, rings loud and clear in every glib line of dialogue.
Yet for its slavish devotion to our expectations, the film still manages at least one surprise rooted in shocking fact. Lead actors Gerard Butler and Jonny Weston performed most of their own stunts, which adds to the spectacle, although some judicious editing clearly slows for stunt doubles to take to the monster waves in key sequences.
Jay Moriarity (Weston) feels at home on the waves and he is determined to ride the monstrous waves close to the home he shares with his depressed mother (Elisabeth Shue). His father left when he was eight so Jay became the man of the house at an early age, putting aside adolescent crushes on best friend Kim (Leven Rambin) to keep his family afloat.
After much pestering, Jay convinces veteran surfer Frosty Hesson (Butler) to train him for the epic trial of riding Mavericks, which can swell to 50 feet high. A father-son bond forms between the prodigy and the old-timer and Frosty neglect his wife (Abigail Spencer) and children to guide Jay to greatness - which includes instructing the teenager to hold his breath for at least four minutes and to eat healthily. While Frosty becomes a positive male authority figure for Jay, the youngster enriches his mentor’s life too.
Chasing Mavericks paints Moriarity as a sun-kissed saint on a surfboard, who led a clean, honest life devoid of drugs and alcohol, and weathered unkind words from the bullies in town without batting one of his blue eyes.
Butler’s American accent is not as robust as his abilities on a board, but he’s an appealingly gruff curmudgeon who warms to his protege. Cinematographer Bill Pope delivers some terrific sequences of the Santa Cruz coast, and of the brave souls who risk life and limb to ride that one perfect tube of cascading water to immortality.
Star rating: 2½/5
CHASING MAVERICKS (PG, 116 mins) Drama/Action/Romance. Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston, Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer, Leven Rambin, Greg Long. Directors: Michael Apted, Curtis Hanson.
Released: July 5 (UK & Ireland)