What do you get when you pair two of Hollywood’s best directors, a talented leading man and a tale that assures audiences it’s based on a true story? If you guessed a mediocre film called “Chasing Mavericks” then pat yourself on the back.
Eight year old Jay Moriarty (Cooper Timberline) and his friend Kim (Harley Graham) are playing on the rocks along the Pacific Ocean. As Kim’s puppy gets closer and closer to the water Jay jumps into action. However in saving the dog Jay is washed off the rocks and pulled under water by the powerful waves and current. Suddenly Jay finds himself fished out of the water and safe in the grasp of one Frosty Hesson (Butler). “Small world,” Frosty tells him. Later Frosty gives the children a ride home. Jay is surprised to see Frosty is one of his neighbors. “Like I said,“ Frosty tells him, “small world.”
Years later, we meet fifteen year old Jay (Weston), who, because of his experience, has learned to embrace the ocean and is one of the best surfers around. One morning he sneaks a ride on Frosty’s van and soon finds himself awestruck as Frosty and friends conquer the Mavericks, mythical tide swells that can reach as high as 25 feet. He convinces Frosty to train him to ride the big waves. Frosty gives Jay twelve weeks to master the event. Twelve l-o-n-g weeks.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I didn’t like “Chasing Mavericks.” It’s just that I liked it better the first time I saw it, when it was called “The Karate Kid.” Here Frosty/Mr. Miyagi teaches the lessons he needs to through hard work and training, sometimes so subtly that Jay/Daniel-son doesn’t even know he’s being taught. And if Jay is Daniel then the ocean is Johnny Lawrence – the bad guy who only knows how to bully you. It is the scenes on the water that give the film any kind of interesting plot. Thanks to the “based on a true story” clue you know that eventually Jay will meet his goals…they certainly wouldn’t make a movie about someone who failed! Another boring plot point concerns the fact that Jay’s dad has left the family (coincidentally around the time Jay learns to enjoy surfing) and Frosty’s dad died young. This gives both men “daddy” issues to deal with along with the waves.
Curtis Hanson, who directed one of the greatest films of the 1990s (“L.A. Confidential”), directed the bulk of this film. It was only after taking ill with a few weeks of filming left that Michael Apted, himself an accomplished filmmaker (“Coal Miner’s Daughter,” England’s “UP” documentary series) stepped up. Together they make the surfing action jump right off the screen, but neither can save the flat padding that fills the rest of the film…padding which turns the movie into a cinematic wipe-out.