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Despite its many challenges, including a generic inspirational sports movie template that piles on the cliches, and a change of directors during the last few weeks of shooting, Chasing Mavericks manages to sufficiently overcome those obstacles with admittedly affecting results.
Credit some pulse-pounding surf footage and a dedicated cast headed by Gerard Butler and fresh-faced newcomer Jonny Weston for bringing home the true story of Santa Cruz boarding phenom Jay Moriarty and his mentor, local legend, Rick “Frosty” Hesson.
While its release would appear to be keyed to the traditional Nov. 1 start of the Jay at Mavericks Big Wave memorial invitational, it’s going to face an additional, seemingly insurmountable challenge going up against the likes of Cloud Atlas and the Halloween-themed Fun Size on its opening weekend.
The mentor/student and symbolic father/son relationship between Hesson and Moriarty initially captured the attention of director Curtis Hanson, and, subsequently Michael Apted, who stepped in for an ailing Hanson late into the production.
That bond between the 15-year-old Santa Cruz teen with a part-time job at a local pizzeria and his neighboring, sun-wizened elder was formed over their mutual obsession over the Mavericks, the near-mythic surf break responsible for some truly monster waves.
Determined to personally tame the big wave despite the inherent dangers, Moriarty readily agrees to Hesson’s strictly-regimented training program, while also juggling school, his job, his fragile mother (an sympathetic Elisabeth Shue) and his pent-up feelings concerning an absentee father.
Hesson, on the other hand, has a supportive wife (Abigail Spencer) and a young family also requiring his attention.
Ironically, considering all that raging water and pumping adrenalin, it’s a disappointment to have their story’s telling so dryly and listlessly executed.
The script, by Kario Salem (Don King: Only in America, The Rat Pack), adheres heavily to formulaic platitudes rather than allowing the energetic, youthful milieu to dictate something with much more vitality.
Fortunately a third-act plot development lends the well-meaning but bland proceedings the emotional investment needed, and the cast capably takes it home.
As no-nonsense Hesson, Butler convincingly invests his character with a commanding presence and rugged physicality, although it’s a shame the Scottish-born actor’s commitment to a credible, consistent American accent wasn’t as equally fierce.
Newcomer Weston, meanwhile has a clean-scrubbed, wide-eyed appeal as the determined young Moriarty, who would ultimately drown the day before his 23rd birthday while diving in the Malidives.
And while those gargantuan Santa Cruz waves have been impressively captured by cinematographer Bill Pope, only at the film’s climax to they feel truly organic to the accompanying plotline, rather than dropped in sporadically to inject the drab dramatics with some much-needed local color.
Opens: Friday, Oct. 26 (20th Century Fox)
Production companies: Fox 2000 Pictures, Walden Media
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston, Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer
Director: Curtis Hanson, Michael Apted
Screenwriter: Kario Salem
Executive producers: Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Georgia Kacandes, David Weil
Producers: Curtis Hanson, Mark Johnson, Brandon Hooper, Jim Meenaghan
Director of photography: Bill Pope
Production designer: Ida Random
Music: Chad Fischer
Costume designer: Sophie De Rakoff
Editor: John Gilbert
Rating: PG, 115 minutes.
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