[Review] – Chasing Mavericks

7 Nov

Title: Chasing Mavericks
Year: 2012
Directors: Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted
Writer: Kario Salem, based on a story by Jim Meenaghan and Brandon Hooper
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston, Leven Rambin, Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer, Taylor Handley
MPAA Rating: PG, thematic elements and some perilous action
Runtime: 116 min
IMDb Rating: 6.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 34%
Metacritic: 44

The thing that drew me the most to Chasing Mavericks wasn’t it’s real life story or the cast or anything like that, it was actually the rather strange combination of the directors that paired up to bring Jay Moriarty’s story to life. These are two veteran directors, Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted; the former the man responsible for films like L.A. Confidential (he won an Oscar for writing that one) as well as Wonder Boys, and the latter is the director of the DGA responsible for works ranging from episodes of the TV series Rome to a James Bond film to the acclaimed Up Series of documentaries.

You have two men who’ve been around for quite some time and who have experienced great deals of success at time or another during their careers and who have had no problems really switching up genres and budgets and always challenging themselves with different stories. Well, such is the case here once again, not only are they working alongside the other but they’re taking on a real life story about surfing.

It focusses on Jay Moriarty, a surfing phemon who, at 15, learns that Mavericks, that mythic huge wave, exists just miles away from his Santa Cruz home in northern California. He decides to go for it, to try and tame Mavericks, and enlists the help of Frosty Hesson, a local surfing legend, to train him to survive the legendary wave. As you might imagine, Chasing Mavericks is about a quest that transcends the one of surviving the wave, it’s about the friendship that develops between these two and it’s your typical inspiration, real-life-based movie that just happens to feature some amazing footage of waves.

The film, however, isn’t all that good, and I certainly was expecting more from a pair of talented and experienced directors behind the camera. The film is okay, I guess, decent and what you might expect from the material but I was expecting Mr. Hanson and Mr. Apted to bring something to table to make it more, and yet this film lacks any kind of energy every time it’s out of the water, there’s no real drama here and no real sense of style.

A lot of the fault has to be given to the screenplay this one has, which is just dominated by the the clichés that these bland life lessons are always made up of. The surfing scenes are nicely done but you can’t expect to be able to coast by on that stuff alone, you need an effective human element at play and that’s just absent here, and if you really want this type of story you’ll ultimately be better off checking out Stacy Peralta‘s documentary Riding Giants. The schmaltzy melodrama that oozes from this film will effectively destroy whatever chance it had of being actually inspirational and providing genuine emotions.

It’s obviously amazing, you know, the story of these guys who have the balls to stand up to 50-foot waves, of Jay doing it while still a teenager, coming out of them alive and just dying to get back on a board and go for seconds. Which is why the surfing scenes are terrific, and undoubtedly well shot and edited, but that stuff only makes up for about a third of the movie or so, and when that’s gone we’re left with a by-the-numbers PG-rated inspirational flick made to get cheers and tears, and I wasn’t buying.

Not to say that the cheers and tears stunt doesn’t work, even the lousiest of films that operate like that can elicit a couple of moments in which you well up, and Chasing Mavericks has two or three of those, but that doesn’t mean anything in these films because once they’re done you’ll forget all about it. Jay Moriarty died in 2001 a day before his birthday (in a diving accident and not in Mavericks), and he was amazing, one of those guys who’s not only a wonderful athlete but a great person as well, always smiling and soul surfing, so I guess that, knowing that, it shouldn’t surprise us much to see this film behave so much like a tribute, it’s just that it overdoes everything.

When I went into the film I said I was drawn to it because of the names it listed as directors. When I came out of it I learned that Mr. Apted actually stepped in after Mr. Hanson was sidelined with some health issues. So it’s not like they were directing together which is what I thought when I went into it, so maybe that’s the reason why this film felt so shoddy at times, because there was no cohesive directorial vision. Still it was frustrating because you would expect these two to do something great, because Mr. Apted had that Up Series of documentaries which shows what he can do with real-life stories and because Mr. Hanson was the man responsible for making 8 Mile as good as it was, and if he got great drama out of that story I would assume he’d be able to do the same here.

I’m not recommending Chasing Mavericks because I don’t find anything of note here, newcomer Jonny Weston as Jay and Gerard Butler as Frosty don’t bring anything exciting to the table (Elisabeth Shue as Jay’s mom does a few good things here) and the script is horrible. Props to cinematographer Bill Pope (responsible for The Matrix) for making the waves seem like such monsters and offering the only real good moments this film offers up, but yeah, that’s about it, and I simply wanted more.

Grade: C

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