You see the major movie this surfing drama could have been, cresting on the horizon like a 20-foot wall. It’s a tale about a death wish, as two based-on-real-life Santa Cruz natives, both of them dealt lousy hands, strain for self-negation in the mashing crucible of nature. Teenage Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston) shucks off parental abandonment to wander down by the churning coast. Adult surfer Rick “Frosty” Hesson (Gerard Butler) is one of those boy-men who never got the hang of fatherhood. Despite a soulful, doting wife, he doesn’t appreciate what he has at home. Jay and Frosty come together, ease a mutual ache and—just when a lesser movie would heal them—complete some kind of preordained path, the skies darkening with the unfairness of it all.
Chasing Mavericks is, unfortunately, that lesser movie, a disappointment given the past boldness of codirectors Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) and Michael Apted (the documentary series Up, tinged with life’s regrets). Too much time is spent on the conventional, rousing gestures of a Karate Kid–like training period. Like a blond totem, a gorgeous California girl waits on the sidelines for Jay to rise to the romantic occasion; meanwhile, Frosty’s kids get tucked in more often and everybody grows up a little. (Even a caricaturish bully fades at all the spiritual rebirthing at hand.) The film wants to be inspiring, when it might have been cosmic—a far greater ambition. Tossing boats and dreamers, the huge waves perform beautifully.
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