Everybody involving in the making of Chasing Mavericks swore this surfing film would be different. No one-armed surfer saints, no bikini’d gidgets and Hollywood hunks posed in front of fake backdrops. This tribute to super-surfer Jay Moriarity, dead in a diving accident at 22, promised more than a formulaic narrative that would paddle a flat story toward climactic big waves, the moment when a community of awestruck landlubbers line up to gape. Well, good intentions don’t hang ten: Except for glimpses of the ferocious majesty of five-story waves, Chasing Mavericks is a total wipeout.
You see it coming from the get-go: With biblical sonorousness, Gerard Butler voice-overs, “We all come from the sea … not all of us are of the sea.” That popcorn poetry sets us up for a stilted shoreside interlude with 8-year-old Jay counting ocean waves, his gaze as faux-rapt as any wide-eyed Disney tot. While rescuing a puppy (property of the girl who will grow up to become “the love of his life”), Jay gets snatched into the rocky surf by a hungry wave. Drowning’s imminent. Then a hand reaches down to pull the boy out. So symbolically emphatic is that helping hand, it might be a sea god rescuing one of his own. Or veteran surfer Frosty Hesson (Butler), later to father and train teenage Jay, preparing the boy for life and the mythic waves they call mavericks. Hear those clicking sounds? That’s formula firing up.