I've never been surfing (Wisconsin has a limited supply of gnarly waves), but it seems like an awesome adrenaline rush. Balancing yourself physically and mentally while flying down a torrent of water on a chunk of polystyrene seems pretty terrific. Plus, if you get tired of falling off your board and getting tossed around by waves, you can just kill some time on the warm and sandy beach, and soak in the beautiful scenery.
So why in the name of Laird Hamilton is "Chasing Mavericks" so boring? It's the sleepiest on-screen presentation of an extreme sport possible, riding a current of bland characters and dull inspirational drama without a hint of what makes surfing or the surfing lifestyle alluring.
The film follows real-life surfing legend Jay Moriarity (newcomer Jonny Weston). Before he became hero, though, he was just another high school student, coping with an emotionally absent mother (Elisabeth Shue), memories of his father who abandoned them and an awkward crush on his childhood sweetheart ("The Hunger Games"' District 1 tribute Leven Rambin).
Life gets more exciting for Jay, though, when he discovers the famous Mavericks surf break in Northern California and a band of surfing veterans tackling its mammoth waves. One of the local legends, Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler), decides to take Jay under his wing and help him muster up the skills and mental preparation to ride Mavericks' dangerous waves.
Of course, the two form a bond that goes beyond the beach. Jay gains the father figure that he never had at home and learns to move on from his real father's abandonment; Frosty learns how to get closer to his own children. It's all very sweet and nice and decently acted ... and ridiculously bland. Frosty's life lessons are all generic inspirational movie hokum (conquering fears, etc.), and the story goes nowhere you couldn't predict from reading a Wikipedia summary.
There are plenty of subplots flooding "Chasing Mavericks"' running time, but none of them add much color to the proceedings. Shue's mother drama is dull and cliché. The relationship between Jay and his girlfriend is bland and lacks chemistry. A subplot involving Jay's best friend/co-worker is barely developed enough to make an impression.
And of course there are bullies (led by Taylor Handley) because any film about a high school student needs screenwriting 101 bullies. They just kind of show up in Kario Salem’s screenplay whenever it needs more undercooked drama, and its resolution is fittingly unsatisfying.
These bland story arcs wouldn’t be as snooze-worthy if directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted (Apted took over at the last minute when Hanson became ill) gave "ChasingMavericks" any energy whatsoever. Where’s the youthful vigor? Where’s the excitement? Where’s the colorful coast setting? Instead, the whole film feels like a side project, something done to pass the time rather than something the Oscar-winning Hanson and veteran Apted were really motivated to make (despite Hanson’s role as a producer).
The only time they bring some fun to the screen is when Jay and company hit the waves. The surfing sequences look epic and fun, and they provide the best energy and drama in the entire film. For those few scenes out on the ocean, "Chasing Mavericks" comes alive.
It's hard to talk about "Chasing Mavericks" without also addressing its abrupt bombshell of an ending. This will probably be a spoiler for non-surfing junkies, but the real-life Jay Moriarity tragically died in 2001 during a driving trip in the Maldives. Salem's screenplay attempts to work this into the film, but it's shoehorned in with an awkward "oh by the way" coda at the very end. Plus, since it comes so suddenly after the goal the movie has been working toward, the ending feels far more tragic than life-affirming and inspirational.
So yeah, "Chasing Mavericks" is a bit of a wipeout. The surfing action might provide a little fun, but there are plenty of better films – namely Stacy Peralta's great documentary "Riding Giants" – that can provide the same rush with almost none of the yawning.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Oct. 29, 2014
It's one of the great philosophical questions about cinema: How much does reality shape the movies we watch, and how much do the movies we watch shape our perception of reality? Long-time Shepherd Express film critic Dave Luhrssen takes on that question with his latest book, "War on the Silver Screen," along with another classic question proposed by the great Detroit philosopher Edwin Starr: War, what is it good for?
Published Oct. 28, 2014
Writer and producer Jeff Gendelman's dream project, one in the works for 18 years, is finally hitting the big screen, one that puts his childhood fascination and home in the spotlight for hopefully the rest of the world to appreciate.
Published Oct. 27, 2014
Perhaps the Hasbro-based wannabe screamer is due some credit, because as a loyal adaptation, it manages to be just as flimsy and silly as the board game on which it's based.
Published Oct. 22, 2014
For many in America, ramen is almost exclusively college dorm food, something quick and easy to make when the times are desperate and the money (or perhaps just the initiative) is low. Recently, however, ramen's reputation has begun to lose its college res hall stink in American culture.
Published Oct. 22, 2014
As the rare tank-based WWII action movie, Ayer's latest decently satisfies. When "Fury" tries to be anything more, however, the story's treading gets gummed up, and the effective machine loses steam.
Published Oct. 21, 2014
In early 2012, music fans found themselves entranced by two hypnotically romantic pop songs cryptically released onto YouTube. The songs were gorgeous, a dreamy high voice with just a touch of smokiness crooning intimate lyrics over seductively simple electronic arrangements. Everyone just wanted to know who was responsible. It was an impressive little indie music mystery ... especially since it was essentially an accident.
Published Oct. 20, 2014
In 2012, comedian Tig Notaro went through a series of intense, significant personal crises that would be overwhelming in a four-year stretch, much less in merely four months. In a matter of a few months, Notaro faced a break-up, a sudden death in the family and two potentially fatal ailments. And in the middle of all of that, she had a stand-up gig at Largo in Los Angeles. The rest, as the cliché says, is history.
Published Oct. 16, 2014
A little over a decade ago, Milwaukee musician and Testa Rosa lead vocalist Betty Blexrud-Strigens got a chance to see the legendary Patti Smith in Madison. Even though the show came quite some time after Smith's punk glory years, Blexrud-Strigens still remembers the rock legend providing a charge. Now, it's up to Blexrud-Strigens and a roster of Milwaukee artists and musicians to bring that essence back to the stage with "Smith Uncovered."
Published Oct. 15, 2014
After three years, The Rural Alberta Advantage is taking a new album on the road, including a return stop at Turner Hall Ballroom on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. Before then, however, OnMilwaukee.com chatted with the band's drummer Paul Banwatt about the process behind "Mended with Gold," looking back at the band's past and spending some time in a creepy Canadian cabin. And, of course, hockey.
Published Oct. 14, 2014
Judged as awards bait, "Kill the Messenger" won't likely snag the golden glory it's looking for. Once you remove the arbitrary frame of awards season, "Kill the Messenger" is a solid, satisfyingly unpredictable and well performed journalism drama that - following the lead of "Shattered Glass" and, of course, "All the President's Men" - often plays like a tense thriller.