Waves the size of small mountains are the most dramatic elements in "Chasing Mavericks," an otherwise melodramatic film based on the lives of surfing legend Jay Moriarty, and his mentor, Frosty Hesson.
In 1994 a photo of 16-year-old Moriarty made the cover of "Surfer" magazine when the kid braved an 80-foot wave at Half Moon Bay, about 30 miles south of San Francisco.
Moriarty's neophyte big wave ride was possible because his neighbor, aging surfer Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler), agreed to train the lad in the art of surfing mavericks. Generated by seasonal storms from November through February, these enormous waves routinely crest between 25 and 80 feet.
The only child of an alcoholic single mom (Elizabeth Shue), Jay is shown wearing his characteristic dopey smile, belying both his personal problems and his determined nature.
"Chasing Mavericks" revolves around the relationship between Jay and Frosty, a crusty family man whose preoccupation with surfing big waves matches Jay's desire to conquer the behemoths. Between his job, family obligations and surfing time, Frosty has better things to do than to mentor his bright-eyed young neighbor, but he agrees to do so when his saintly wife (Abigail Spencer) admonishes, "There are all kinds of sons; those that are born to you, and those that occur to you."
It's a pretty line, one of several gracing this tale that finds Frosty benefiting as much from the association as Jay does.
The film remains emotionally remote although it exalts Jay's superior morality. Newcomer Jonny Weston portrays the young surfer with a mix of shy-Di smiles, and a fixed sweetness that fails to provide insight into his emotional life.
Beneath his mop of loose curls, Gerard Butler's Frosty struggles to find his character's hard edge. Frosty assembles difficult lessons to prepare Jay for his quest, only to find himself tutored by the loyal teen whose grasp of love and friendship seem far beyond his years.
The dramatic moments, meant to establish Jay's enormous value to those around him, don't impress, but gazing up from the foot of Jay's liquid mountains, we see what motivates him. More could have been achieved in this film with less melodrama and many more waves.