Review: Chasing Mavericks

The Hollywood surf film flounders, yet again

| posted on October 30, 2012

An unplanned moment added legitimacy to Chasing Mavericks' terrifying surf sequence. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to rescue Hollywood's latest surf film from mediocrity. Photo: Glaser

After watching Chasing Mavericks at a San Clemente theatre on Friday, I was once again reminded of why Hollywood surf movies are doomed to fail. Regardless of their intentions, filmmakers need to appeal to a mainstream audience while attempting to stay true to the subject matter. The general rule is (with the exception of maybe, The Endless Summer) the closer a film gets to appealing to the hardcore surf audience, the bigger the flop. Conversely, films that do well at the box office are the ones that seem to revile us the most. When a film gets caught somewhere in-between, nobody is satisfied, or worse, they leave the theatre feeling ambivalent. Sadly, Chasing Mavericks falls into this trap.

The very existence of Chasing Mavericks is example of Hollywood’s atavism. If natural selection worked in Hollywood the way it does everywhere else, the surf film genre would be long-since extinct. Live-action surf films rarely succeed on a financial or cultural level, yet studios continue to give them the green light. It’s not surprising then, that the latest incarnation has performed as predicted: taking in a paltry $2.2 million on its opening weekend.

But one thing is certain, the failure of the film isn’t the result of flawed surf sequences (that honor belongs to the film’s clichéd plot devices and tepid script.) The real stars of the film are the big-wave surfers who left everything out in the water while shooting the stunts for Jay Moriarty’s fateful session at Mavericks. The result is the most realistic (and terrifying) surf scenes that Hollywood has been able to conjure. The surf sequences help the film exceed the jaded surfer’s low expectations for the genre, but are unable to rescue it from its inherent pitfalls.

Of course, like any invested movie-goer, I found myself caught up in Moriarty’s inspirational story, chuckling when I saw people I know delivering cheesy one-liners, and shuffling uncomfortably in my seat when the fury of the Pacific unloaded at Mavericks. But upon sober reflection, the finished product merely blends into the din of Hollywood mediocrity. There is substance in there somewhere, but in the quest to find a balance between mainstream appeal and sincerity, we’re left with another Hollywood depiction that fails to overcome the barriers of hardened surf cynicism and, based on the figures from its opening weekend, has already failed to connect with its target audience.

  • http://none Steve Briggs

    The writer for this film did not know the “Surf” world. He immersed himself with surfers at Marina del Rey???!!! to get the surf vibe. Are you kidding me? Who surfs in Marina del Rey? Where do they surf? It’s shit there and always has been. Should we be surprised by this failure of a surf movie going mainstream? Hardly. Point Break, In Gods Hands and anything remotely Hollywood related to surfing always seem to get it wrong. Big Wednesday came close to the real surf vibe and story but also had “Hollywood” moments. For the real surfers that were employed on this film they took the cash and who wouldn’t. The money was good and look what they had to do. Do they care if it killed it at the Box Office? I doubt it but it took care of their bank accounts for a while.

  • Jack English

    Why don’t we just embrace the fact that Hollywood does put surfing in their movies? I mean come on, do you think Hollywood is ever going to be 100% accurate on the way surfing is portrayed. Lighten up people and just enjoy it!

    If Hollywood never did anything on surfing you would be bitching and now that they have your still bitching.

  • Kenny Badler

    Why should we expect anything “true” out of Hollywood? I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, despite the generous serving of cheese. I mean, if you dont like cheese, dont order a cheeseburger. I went with my 10 year old son and was glad he saw it. “Jay” demonstrates passion for his sport, shows responsibility to family, and resists the “dark side.” Oh, and Abigail Spencer and Levin Rambin are great actresses, and so easy on the eyes 🙂

  • Alicia Langer

    Any film about Mavericks that doesn’t mention Jeff Clark immediately lacks authenticity.

  • ARI

    I AM SURPRISED at how people that surf really are pissed off… sorry u spent ur money and were dissapointed…. maybe Jays fam is happy with the movie and thats what really matters dont be a hater..

  • Silver

    Kind of a dumb review. He claims to have been ‘caught up in” the story but dumps all over it, without anything substantial, just railing against Hollywood. I surf, I enjoyed it. I thought they did a great job filming the surf and depicting how difficult it is. I enjoyed seeing Jays story. My wife and daughter liked it too.

  • Vidal

    I appreciated the movie, even though I went in there with tempered expectations and well-braced for the typical cheese. The cheese did not disappoint, but I left the film feeling inspired by Jay’s life, what Frosty did, the story behind the family, and the drama facing challening a wave like Mavericks. It almost made me wanna start training for big waves. I emphasize almost. Which means, I’ll tackle the 2 ft San Diego slop with all the more fierceness after seeing what big wave surfers make possible on these behemoths. For that, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

  • Joe

    Saw “Mavericks” Saturday and was totally blown away. Thank goodness I didn’t make the mistake of consulting IMDB and the trolls over there. Or, this review for that matter.

    Oh, and NO foul language and NO sex and NO evil spirits. Probably why there were only 5 other people in the theater.

    I absolutely loved it and I want to see it again before it leaves the big screen (probably Thursday Hehe).

  • ian murphy

    Makes me sad. Hasn’t anyone seen BIG WEDNESDAY? Sure it’s a bit over the top at points, but that is an example of a good surf movie. The problem is, in order to have a good surf movie, you need to use surfing as the back drop and give us characters we give a s*** about. Hollywood sees surfers the same way they see so many other “character types”. One dimensional guys/gals who’s search for the ultimate wave is all they care about. At least we’ll always have cinematography (well, that and Bruce Brown/Stacy Peralta, thank god!)

  • Eric

    Why so angry, it is not like it is just surfing that Hollywood gets it all wrong. Anything they do is a loose interpretation of the subject matter. Never go see a submarine movie with a submariner because he/she will call BS every three seconds, just like us surfers on a surf film. Why does drywall and car doors stop bullets in movies? At least we do not have 4 TV shows about our sport / hobby / lifestyle on TV right now. Every gunsmith is the world has to hear about the bogus crap that RedJacket did on TV the night before and the viewer has no idea that 90% of it is fake/purchased/exaggerated etc. like the people who are in the industry/lifestyle. Most of us have had a time where we drove cars faster than we should, how did the Fast & Furious do? Not well, actually embarrassing is a better word for it. The bottom line is to either avoid this movie or go see it for what it is, but don’t act like it is just us surfers who get the Hollywood shaft. Reality disappears on any subject matter once you put a camera on it and have a director who has one job to do, put butts in the seats at $14.95 a pop.

  • Charlie den Dulk

    Perfection will never be accomplished.
    There are always bad scenes in a movie.
    It has something to do with people being spoiled.
    Look at the things you got and have been given, not the things you don’t have or what’s bad about this movie.
    Be thankful there was even a movie made about surfing!
    A Hollywood one!
    If you really want to see some good surfing, you guys and girls all know it.
    Just watch the Teahupoo stream.

    Greetings from The Netherlands.

  • Steve Wimer

    Hey, I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s got to be better than “In God’s Hands”.

  • Kim

    Hey, Blue Crush (the first one) was pretty darn good.

  • Mike Whaley

    I can agree with some of what the reviewer says but I enjoyed the movie, especially the surf scenes at Mavericks. All in all I would give it a 6 out of 10. I knew of Jay Moriarity of course but not the relationship between him and Frosty Hesson who was played by Gerard Butler (who actually had a 2 wave holddown while filming the movie). I was at the Pensacola Florida premier hosted by Innerlight Surf and Skate and Pensacola has a special relationship with Abigail Spencer (the daughter of Yancy Spencer who passed away while surfing last year). She played the wife of Frosty Hesson and did a great job. Go Abbie. This one was for your dad.

  • Kyle Stuart

    They can’t all be “North Shore” now, can they?

  • sxmwatersports

    I really don’t get the negativity. Simply, I watch surfing movies because I am a big wave junkie. I enjoy the sheer physical elegance of the wave and awe inspiring courage of the surfer/athlete. I could care less if the ‘story’ disappoints. I nice music soundtrack is always a bonus.

  • Mike

    what this film really lacked was….Mathew McConaughey….if he was the star… would have been great

  • Skip Savage

    Saw the movie last weekend in Pensacola at a private screening. Place was packed with Abigails friends and family. Movie was good and you could sit there with your son/daughter and not worry about the language. What nobody else in the world saw were Abbys comments in the preview of the movie.

  • Eric

    Give me the editor’s knife, there is a good movie in there, once you trim away the karate kid cheddar and other cheeses. Hollywood is too in love with itself to cut out their darling contributions, which of course ruin a story that needed no help. Give me the knife!

  • Ray H. R.

    Just enjoy it for what it is. To me any Surf movie is Better than No Surf Movie.
    Some will always be better than others. I enjoyed it but I did not go in expecting
    to much.

  • jeff

    I gotta say that i really enjoyed the movie. I know it has a bunch of cheese in it and what not. But hey, what could you expect from a Hollywood movie. I mean Hollywood’s job its to make movies that appeal to the general public. At least I’m glad that they are making movies about surfing. Its not like you can complaint much about it, because every Hollywood movie does the same thing. I don’t think that we should blame it on them so hard for not showing things the way we see them. Surfing it not a sport that everyone can easily understand it is probably and so we shouldn’t be expecting much from movies made by people who has barely come in touch with the sport. Thankfully this movie had Greg long, Frosty, Pete Mel and other surfers involved, which helped quite a bit. Other than that i thought that the surfing scenes were absolutely amazing and got to capture what mavericks is all about. I also think that the fact that its cheesy and suited for a broader audience is good because it draws more people to become interested in the sport, making it stronger. specially with the younger generations. besides its message is pretty inspiring. Id really recommend it.

  • http://www, A.Diaz

    Dude you sound like your analyzing the GODFATHER trilogy………..your not…….it’s not……..For the adults it was a chance to see the wave filmed by top notch cinematography dudes and Hollywood editing which made it cool who cares about the weak plot as you say it’s a surfing movie. The Kids who see it were stoked and fed into the movie………. Either way it inspired “STOKE” and made us all to want to surf, some to visit Mavericks and spend our $ and support the economy………….This is a secondary market movie and will turn a great profit from the red boxes,and all those internet movie sites………..You cant lose with surfing and this movie will be a surfing stoker for years to come….It will be in the black in profits very soon……..Pura Vida!

  • Lee Olson

    Box office receipts don’t determine the real worth of a movie. This was a well done film, was family friendly, and inspirational. I was one of the background artists at the Santa Cruz location. My only complaint was that the editors seemed to cut out all of those scenes that showed anyone other than paid cast members. The famous paddle out scene we recreated was cut down so much that it seemed to be an after thought rather than a significant event in remembering Jay.

  • Christa Atkins

    Honestly I loved Chasing Maverciks. For sure one of my favorite movies… SC REPRESENT

  • Robert

    In my film crit class they said. “suspend your disbelief” then watch the movie

  • marz voltron

    Any movie that comes from hollywood will be nothing more than that. A hollywood movie. I liked the movie. It wasn’t bad for a surf film. I think your critisism is slightly too harsh. But I see where you are coming from. Just keep in mind that as long as we are surfers and as long as hollywood is hollywood, there will never be a perfect surf movie. And who cares anyways. Why can’t people seek out the good rather than the bad and just enjoy life? As a surfer energy is everything to me, so I definitely don’t want to waste it on getting angry or annoyed with the hollywood film industry. This review could be better cause Gerard Butler is the shit. And that kid did a great job playing Jay. His story was told and I think if he were here he’d be stoked about it.

  • Mike Shellman

    The movie was terrific.The water footage was outstanding. I did not know Jay but I know his story and his level of commitment to something he loved. The movie portrayed him as a good, happy soul full of respect and admiration for his mentor, his parents, his community and his sport. I hope that is basically right about him. It was a healthy movie for kids to see and to maybe kleen something good from. No knife fights, not foul language, just a simple story of what it takes to reach a goal in life. Whats there NOT to like about that?

    I should think that anybody that surfs would be proud of this movie and the image it portrayed of a good young man lost far too early in life. If your heart did not jump a little at the end of the movie, when Frosty opened his letter from Jay, you probably don’t have one.

  • Michael


  • Brian

    Marz Voltron – Well said dude \m/

  • Jessie

    Chasing Mavericks ROCKED!!! on the east coast in VA it was very inspiring to those who understand the passion for the sport of surfing. Overall the plot of the movie was great, surf footage was excellant, and unfortunately only those who understand the art and soul of surfing then those are going to be the ones who come out and see it. I can’t wait to purchase it and add it to my collection…………5 thumbs up and a packed theater opening night in VA.

  • Daniel Jett

    I agree with the majority of comments made above. I took all three of my kids to see it, it had a great message about an inspiring individual with no bad language, no violence and no sex. I appreciate Gerard Butler making this movie for the mainstream. there are not that many family friendly movies made anymore, but I was especially glad one was made about surfing here in California. It was especially good because these were real people, not just fiction.

  • Scott Nurkin

    do most readers of Surfer know what “atavism” means? i had to look it up.

  • Mick

    Wait…. Theres a second “blue crush” movie???!

  • fartnugget

    Hey Boner,
    Your column is more shallow and dim than a Hollywood surf movie. Way to step it up.
    “Rock n Roll”

  • Lane

    The director of Lords Of Dogtown should make a surf movie, that was a fine film, and there was nothing cheesy about the surf scenes in that.

  • Jason

    The point of any movie is to entertain us. I wish all movie critics would get over themselves and judge movies on that criteria. Was “North Shore” cheesy and full of non-reality when it came to surfing? Yes. Did we all love it and have watched it a million times? Oh Yes!

  • Peter

    Leys face it, only Bohdi and johnny Utah killed it on the big screen.
    Point Break still rocks!

  • stu

    all true. This movie sucks. But I couldn’t help notice the irony of a surfer mag “writer” knocking a film for its mere mediocrity.

  • pat

    You guys are the dummies for actually paying to see it! Thanks but I will wait.

    The best surf movies are the ones that are completely ridiculous in the way they portray surfing, ie, Point Break, North Shore, Blue Crush, “imagine if there was a wave sooo big” (cant remember the name). Man, surf’s up was incredible. Why do we want to stop making these hilarious films? For a dramatic attempt at reality? Gerard Butler is lame and so is everyone that thought this movie would be a hit.

  • http://facebook scott

    movie = entertainment, im sure itll be a while before it makes the rounds to landlocked Iowa, but cant wait to see it.. Big Wednesday, awesome movie, they need more like it. if the surfing media would push to get the sport more mainstream, it would help. Make contests & such more available to ESPN, or other broadcast media. i mean can you imagine the coverage billabong would get at pipeline or teahupu? And whats more extreme than big wave contests? X- games only wants to show skating on half pipes or back flips on dirt bikes. I know im not the only one not living on the ocean that would like to see more surfing related programs on tv.

  • http://surfermag Nate

    Well done…excellent cinematography, probably the closest I will ever get to Mavericks on a big day! Glad I don’t have to see the world thru the dim glasses of a “critic”.

  • jbinsb

    It’s like democracy. Consider hardcore surfers the far left or far right, the purists. They don’t get what they want in a democracy that has to serve the mainstream middle. If you want pure surfing put on Suburbia or The Search or something. But you also get lame storytelling there; in fact, typically the narrative is either non-existent or stupid beyond words — a bunch of surfers glamorized as they flip off the camera and throw things at each other before pulling into heaving kegs. As the lifelong surfing parent of a 19-year-old son who’s a committed surfer and trying to navigate through all there is to navigate through at that age, the movie, as sappy as it was — and it was that for sure — moved me and also provided a good model for a kid: setting a goal and working to reach it, following one’s own internal compass, figuring out what matters for him. I think parents just see more that they can relate to in any movie that involves family, and Mavericks was very much about dads and sons. I wouldn’t expect a 20-year-old charger to love Chasing Mavericks, but I found it somehow satisfying.

  • Duane Kenny

    CM was a great movie. Yes hollywood has to tick all the boxes, but so what, the movie met all my expectations. I was inspired, and left with tears in my eyes. If a movie leaves me with just those two things then it’s better that 99% of the films out there. I applaud Gerard Butler and the films whole team for doing such an awesome job. I admire Jay for living life in a way that would inspire anyone to aim for their goals! A life that deserved a great movie, and it got one! Everyone please use social media to get your friends to see this film, critics don’t rule our decisions, we do! Life like Jay!

  • Reid Wagner

    I have seen many of the “surf films”, including Bill Brown films, which we don’t see any more. Yes, guys, I’m an old guy. Still have my 9-6 Dewey. Chasing Mavericks is a good flick. No sex, no blood, no killing. Good show for kids that if you have a dream it takes work, commitment, and knowing you need to work. Jay had problems in his family, and who doesn’t. But he kept his eyes on the prize and he knew he’d come out better in the end. I remember this story and Jay’s notoriety when he rode that Wave. This one goes in my CD library.

  • http://- Yagel

    after watching alot of bilabong clips ,surfers clips and even movies
    this one goes to my library for sure
    this movie will leave a mark for me – makes me want to surf more ..
    as said :

    “Belive in your self ,or non of this matters .”

  • Ray

    See this one on the big screen. The surfing footage in those monster waves is worth the price of admission. A great story of desire to find one’s own journey and being blessed with a mentor to take you there.

  • Matt O’Brien

    I saw it and I enjoyed it. On the big screen was definitely worth the price of admission just to see Mav’s on big screen. “critic” relax as is pointed out on this thread – Hollywood goes over the top (and gets it “wrong”) most of the time. It is a freaking movie. Not a biography! Try getting punched in the face as many times as they do in films and you would be dead… or at least brain dead.
    Like a friend of mine said after the new Indiana Jones movie: “good movie, but they got the ending wrong”! He is an alien believer and believes the ending was wrong… WTF! it is sci-fi-action flick. Not a biography. Go see the movie and take your kid(s) cause as mentioned here too – no cursing/nudity/or death/violence. Family fun!

  • Surfin Bear

    Best movie ever, beats Titanic.

  • David M

    Took my two teenage sons to opening night, we all really enjoyed the film. It had a great message about life and how to approach it. Maybe the critic should take a deep breath and just take the movie at face value, it was entertaining and I look forward to seeing it again.

  • zOLA

    the movie is perfect, i really enjoyed myself. i have to see it again.

  • FlyNNN

    Enjoyed this movie. Living on the leeward side of the Rocky Mountains, the only boarding I get to do is snowboarding but felt a connection. Too much hate in the comments. The only disappointment was hearing of Jay’s early death.

  • Dave W

    Just saw Chasing Mavericks on a flight this week. Shouldn’t be so harsh on surf films – tough genre – its never going to be right for everyone. I grew up in Dana Point and this movie brought back memories of a golden time for me – about 1974 – my family had big problems – my world was a crappy $5 board and a stitched up wet suit. I had forgotten what it was like as a 10-year-old to go surfing, often by myself and not worry about anything. I had a friend show me how – we surfed, built skateboards, bult skim boards – would sometimes go to Cottons with my friend’s dad (who grew up in Santa Cruz…). Can’t wait to watch it again with my teen-age kids…

  • Dean George

    I just saw Chasing Mavericks, I found it to be an awesome film. I can never understand what these jaded film critics are wanting form a movie. If I took advice and attended only films that critics give ticks to, Id only see a few movies each year.
    I feel movies are made to entertain or in this case show how awesome Jay’s outlook and approach to life was. More people need to enjoy life like Jay, instead of making a living picking the pieces out of movies.

  • angi

    I watched the movie and loved it, loved the surf scenes, the story, everything. Stop being so negative! Plus it was BASED on a true story. Everyone knows that there will be some things added into it. It’s about enjoying the movie and the talent of the surfers. My opinion, I’m stickin’ to it!

  • Dustin Mcbee

    I watched this movie more than once. It was based on a true story, and was a very motivational film. I dont see how anyone could me negative towards this production. After the watching the film I found myself on youtube looking up some real film shots of the actual Jay Moriarty on the Maverick, and watched a few of his interviews. GREAT MOVIE

  • Kyle

    What an awesome movie! I’ve been following surfing (never actually surfed, because I never lived near the water, let alone a break) for over 10 years-seen the good documentaries, seen Pipeline, Waimea, and Mavericks GOING OFF on my HD Surfline cams, done all the research on the science of the best breaks across the world, and I was blown away with how great the “surfing” component to this film was! Absolutely love how they start off with counting the seconds of the period-I feel they nailed what the surfing audience would be looking for there (surfing and Mavericks don’t go together if you don’t understand the importance of wave period (gotta feel the bottom))! In addition to nailing it on the surfer footage and surfer jargon, this movie’s message was rare for today’s shallow/special effects/blood/sex Hollywood crap-it had a message of setting goals, working hard, and the importance of friendship. I will watch this movie many times again, and share with anyone I can 🙂

  • Stephen Ritger

    While the movie contains some cliche Hollywood formula stuff, the surfing footage is absolutely breathtaking. You can feel the raw power of nature. Great soundtrack, too. My wife and I really enjoyed it.

  • Sandy

    Could be a Hollywood disaster but the waves took an Oscar and the stunts surfers made my husband and I feel like we were there!!!

  • Noelege

    I myself saw right threw the Hollywood n thoroughly enjoyed the film., surfing was amazing n made u feel like u were there… Scenery n action were great, the story was well written n characters were interesting n well chosen… Overall, it kept my attention n made it completely believable n heartfelt story about an amazing person n their short but sweet life… That is however only my opinion but any story that shows a kid dedicate himself n achieve his goals all while living his life to the fullest, can’t be bad, right… GODSPEED Jay….

  • Deb

    my son and i really liked the movie and we both were very moved by what the movie was trying to show about this young mans short but powerful life.Yes the surfing and waves were awesome and at times had us on the edge of our seat.We came away from this movie saying wow,what a great young man and what a tradegy that such a great young man had so much to live for died so young.

  • Jan Wolf

    How can you be so critical of such an uplifting, powerful story with beyond excellent photography and true life characters? My husband and I were mesmerized by the story of Jay Moriarty and the values he upheld and the fine character he molded out of his trials. Hollywood should make MORE movies like this, rather than the superficial stuff they spew at us on a regular basis.

    • jacob

      Very well put Jan. I agree with you 100 %. I bought it and watched it 3 times already.

    • laurie

      I enjoyed it as well….the story was one I feel richer for having heard. It wasn’t a fancy Hollywood vehicle….but the story felt real and unembellished…a rarity these days….the surfing footage was very satisfying….I am only sad that this young man’s life was cut so short!

  • Benjamin Rayner

    Moriarty lost his life breaking rule number one. don’t go in the water alone…especially if ur practicing breath holds. Hope that comes across in this film, a senseless and VERY avoidable tragedy. Don’t breath hold w/o a buddy….

    • mike

      He sucks and so did this piece of trash movie! America always think people care about the losers in their history….we dont!!

      • L.B Havird

        You sound like you know a lot about losing…maybe you can inspire us with your life story!

      • Dean

        Benjamin, you are such a simple human, shame!

  • Barry Cohen

    I enjoyed it. I have never heard of Moriarty, and now I have. So that can’t be bad. Now I’m curious about him, and found the film, although lacking a little energy except for the surf scenes, very uplifting, yet sad that he died so young. Its one of those movies I’ll watch over and over. Also,was good seeing Eliz Shue again

  • Philip Denoncourt

    I understand your review. That being said, I enjoyed the film! It was nice to learn the story of Jay Moriarity.

    • ChasingSomething

      Hey plus i loved how Jay was looking up to frosty

  • ChasingSomething

    Well, to make a point here the Jay was looking up to frosty. I also think that Jay wanted to be like him.

  • Fleaman

    Quit looking so hard and enjoy the ride. He would of.