When we first meet Jay Moriarity, he’s an 8-year-old California boy with a passion for timing ocean waves, but it turns out to be a bit of a dangerous hobby. On this particular day, a friend’s dog chases a ball to the end of the rocks, where the waves meet the shore.
As Jay attempts to rescue the dog, he’s swept away by a wave. Good thing Frosty, a surfer played by Gerard Butler, just happens to be nearby. After he rescues Jay, he gives him a ride home to Santa Cruz. Frosty, with his rugged and slightly intimidating veneer, lays into Jay, lecturing him about what just happened, but little Jay disarms Frosty by explaining his passion for timing waves.
Eight years later, Jay, played by relative newcomer Jonny Weston, has become one of the best, if not the best, teen surfer in Santa Cruz. Young as he is, he’s wise beyond his years, thanks in no small part to his relationship with his mother, played by Elizabeth Shue. Mom is barely employed, has trouble getting up for work and borrows money from Jay for various reasons. To complicate matters, her son hasn’t seen or heard from his father in years. Jay craves something more from life, and he’s about to find out what.
Early one morning, Frosty leaves his house, clearly to go surfing. Jay sees Frosty leave and, unbeknownst to his neighbor, he hitches a ride on the back of his van. When they arrive at their destination, Jay can’t believe what he’s seeing. Giant waves — by far, the biggest he’s ever seen. When Frosty and friends conquer those, Jay reveals his presence by cheering his approval from a cliff overlooking the ocean.
If you haven’t guessed, Jay wants to surf these monster waves, called mavericks, but Frosty says no. Jay’s not old enough or strong enough, he says, and Frosty isn’t willing to train him. But this teenager is quite persistent, and so Jay becomes Daniel-san to Frosty’s Mr. Miyagi. Their relationship isn’t anything we haven’t seen before but Butler’s Frosty is compelling and complex. This is one of Butler’s better roles, in fact — he’s so good, you almost feel bad for Weston, because the relative newcomer struggles to hold his own opposite Butler. Fortunately, Weston shines when he’s surfing or when he’s alone, and that helps keep you rooted to the story.
Yes, some of “Chasing Mavericks” is fairly predictable but if you don’t know Jay Moriarity’s story — yes, he was real, already a near legend when barely out of his teens — then the story’s likely not very predictable at all. Even if you are familiar with Moriarity’s story, it shouldn’t negate the emotional impact of the film’s ending.
“Chasing Mavericks” is occasionally lightweight and unnecessarily corny, but it’s also profound and inspirational.
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.