Movie Review: Chasing Mavericks
Length: 116 minutes
Release date: October 26, 2012
Directed by: Michael Apted, Curtis Hanson
Stars: 3 out of 5
"Karate Kid" seems to have set the formula for the underdog sports hero story. "Chasing Mavericks" is no different. It is a story of inspiration based on the true life of a legendary surfer who died very young. "Chasing Mavericks" is supposed to show audiences and admirers how the legend was made. What it did succeed in doing was proving how effective the "Karate Kid" method of sports-story writing can work for any subject.
While "Chasing Mavericks" should not be seen as a definitive biography on surf legend Jay Moriarty, the debut performance by actor Jonny Weston does offer some insight into the late surfer's upbringing. The movie begins with an introduction to the waves when Moriarty was just a young boy. He goes in to save his dog but finds himself in peril. Neighbor and surf legend in his own right Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler) pulls the boy to safety and tries to teach him a stern lesson. However, the lesson is interrupted when Hesson discovers that the boy is interested in counting the waves. That is when the boy begins a lifelong obsession with surfing.
Years later, Moriarty is a local surfing phenom who looks up to mentor Hesson. As a teenager, he loves to take risks, especially on the water. One day, the teen catches Hesson leaving on an early morning errand. The teen hitches a ride only to find that Hesson and his friends are riding the ultimate waves near Santa Cruz, California. Called mavericks, these waves can reach up to 35 feet. Only the most skilled surfers can ride them. Moriarty wants to be one of those surfers, so he convinces Hesson to do the instruction. Here, the movie really enters the realm of "Karate Kid" with the same "wax on, wax off" approach to training that Miyagi took with his protégé. The chores, and even the essays, become the things that eventually lead to Moriarty's mastering the most beautiful and dangerous waves in North America.
The story follows the "Karate Kid" formula in other ways as well. Moriarty is raised by a single mother who is struggling to make ends meet because his father is absent. The mentor Hesson thus assumes the role of a pseudo-parent to the teenager. If you missed this theme, Hesson's wife points it out during her monologue to the man before he agrees to instruct Moriarty on riding the maverick waves. Elizabeth Shue plays the mother who seems in desperate need of the assistance, much like Daniel's mom in "Karate Kid." (It should be noted here that Elizabeth Shue played the love interest in "Karate Kid.") It is the mommy issues in the movie that seem to push Moriarty to be more mature than he needs to be. In fact, Moriarty spends much of the movie taking care of his drunk and often unemployed mom. The teen even comes up against local bullies. "Chasing Mavericks" seems to follow the formula very well.
Whether the directors intended it or not, they created a classic inspirational film that fans of sports dramas will love. This goes for fans of Jay Moriarty and for people who have never heard of him before. The biographical information lightly covers that journey of the surfing legend from a curious boy to a master of the most dangerous waves around. The story is straightforward, but that does not take away from its strength. The simplicity of the plot works to make such an inspirational tale much more powerful than it would be left to its own devices. In a more complex plot, the story would have surely been lost.
One thing to note is that the direction of "Chasing Mavericks" changed in the midst of filming. However, a person would be hard-pressed to point to the moment when Michael Apted's work ended and Curtis Hanson's direction began. The entire movie is a seamless journey that audiences can easily follow from start to finish.
This formulaic sports drama leaves a lot for audiences to take home, especially if they are fans of Jay Moriarty. Even surfing sport fans will love the heavy-handed treatment of the sport. The beautiful settings and wonderful stunts are offset by the intriguing tale of a surfing phenom. Audiences will recognize the "Karate Kid" path without being derailed by it. On the contrary, "Chasing Mavericks" takes advantage of that formula to build a new tale of a sporting underdog who went on to make a huge impact in his field.