Fox // 2012 // 116 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 12th, 2013
Legends start somewhere.
"We all come from the sea, but we are not all of the sea."
Santa Cruz teenager Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston, John Dies at the End) has been a surfing enthusiast his entire life. He's always been a risk-taker, tackling the big waves that terrify his peers. When Jay discovers the existence of the much-fabled Mavericks surf break, he's eager to tackle the biggest waves of his life. However, Jay's mentor Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler, 300) knows that the scrappy young teen isn't even close to being ready for such a challenge. Frosty agrees to train Jay, but even the most intense preparation might not be enough to prevent Jay from getting hurt...or even killed.
As I'm not much of a surfing enthusiast, I only knew a little bit about Jay Moriarty before viewing Chasing Mavericks. I had heard the name and I knew that he died at a very young age, but that was about it. Perhaps the filmmakers were hoping that a whole lot of viewers would be similarly uninformed, as the film's climax involves Jay tackling some potentially deadly waves. "So is this what killed him? Or was it something else?" I wondered fretfully. It's a nailbiting sequence regardless, loaded with tension and effectively accentuating the terrifying beauty of the waves. If the rest of the film had been that skillful and involving, I'd be offering an enthusiastic recommendation. Alas, the rest of the film is a curiously lifeless tribute to a young man who seemingly lived life to the fullest.
The first thing that grabbed my attention about Chasing Mavericks was the beauty of the Blu-ray transfer. Man, it's a nice-looking disc. The second thing that grabbed my attention was the clunkiness of the dialogue, which almost never feels natural. None of the performances in the film are really exceptional, but it's hard to blame the actors for failing to do much with lines like, "There are all kinds of sons. Some are born to you, some just occur to you." Young Jonny Weston over-emotes at every turn, doing his best to capture the character's big moments of fear, sadness and exhilaration but never really selling us on any of it. It's awfully difficult to connect with the characters when the dialogue is so awkward and the performances are so forced.
As it proceeds, the film doles out one conventional subplot after another, handling each and every one of them with the banal predictability of a lower-tier Hallmark Original Movie. We watch as Jay deals with local bullies, as Jay's friend gets sucked into the wrong crowd, as Jay's mother struggles with alcoholism and financial woes, as Jay begins to develop feelings for a local girl...it's meant to provide a detailed, complex look at the character's life, but it all feels like filler. The meat of the movie is in the scenes between Butler and Weston, and even these moments play like reheated scenes from the charming animated film Surf's Up. Butler is likable and charismatic, but he's saddled with some unconvincing character moments (like the scene in which he angrily chews Jay out for writing an essay about a girl -- it feels like a dramatic contrivance of the screenplay, not a natural reaction of the character Butler is playing).
Part of the problem might be that the film changed directors midway through principal photography. Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) grew too ill to finish the movie, so Michael Apted (Gorillas in the Mist, The World is Not Enough) took over for the final three weeks of shooting. Both Hanson and Apted are talented directors, but both have also helmed their fair share of misfires. Still, Chasing Mavericks feels flimsier than just about anything either director had previously turned out. Additionally, Gerard Butler was hospitalized for a while after a surfing accident, causing further production complications. Any number of behind-the-scenes factors could be blamed for the film's problems. Still, the unpleasant truth is that the movie just doesn't work and isn't worthy of its central subject.
As previously mentioned, Chasing Mavericks (Blu-ray) does indeed benefit from a strong 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. The surfing sequences in particular look fantastic, as the deep blue sea and its turbulent waves are presented with dazzling clarity. Depth is strong throughout and brighter colors have a lot of pop. There are some occasional moments of noise, but I'm generally impressed with what the disc has to offer. The DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio track also impresses -- again, the surfing sequences stand out above everything else. Though some of the music on the soundtrack doesn't quite work, the mix is strong and particularly immersive when those waves start rolling. Supplements include an audio commentary with Apted and producers Brandon Hooper and Jim Meenaghan, four solid making-of featurettes ("Surf City," "Shooting Waves," "Live Like Jay" and "Surfer Zen" -- these run about 40 minutes combined), some deleted scenes, a trailer and a digital copy.
Despite some stellar surfing scenes, Chasing Mavericks can't shake its "Movie of the Week" vibe. At least the Blu-ray looks good.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy